By Zachary Flynn
With the city bulldozing through the NAIT field and the Ooks’ decision to pull out of the spring 2021 season, soccer will look incredibly different at NAIT for the 2020-2021 academic year.
In June, the ACAC announced that the fall 2020 soccer season would be rescheduled for April of 2021, but that timing isn’t convenient for most of NAIT’s soccer players. Many of the players are a part of club soccer organizations whose seasons begin at that same time.
A new type of soccer for NAIT
NAIT has since made the decision to join Concordia, Augustana and Grande Prairie Regional College in temporarily joining the ACAC’s futsal league, playing a form of indoor soccer beginning in January.
In previous years, many of NAIT’s soccer players have also played for local clubs during the indoor soccer seasons. This has been the key factor in NAIT’s decision against creating a futsal team in the past.
“There are a lot of benefits for [having a futsal team at NAIT], it’s just that our student-athletes play high-level club that’s better for them than futsal from a competition standpoint,” said Jordan Richey, Athletics Manager for NAIT Athletics.
Normally, a college would need to assemble a team and participate in exhibition games for about three years before they could participate in conference play. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique situation where NAIT and other schools are able to join the league on such short notice.
“NAIT in the past has never felt that it was worth that investment for something that most likely wouldn’t happen. We’ve kind of been given a freebie here to see how it is and we get to jump straight into the competition. So if it’s something that our coaches and student-athletes feel that this is viable, I think we would entertain entering ACAC futsal moving forward,” said Richey.
NAIT Field non-existent for 5-10 years
For the 2019 season, NAIT moved their games out to Sherwood Park, following reports of their field being deemed unsafe, and is currently looking for a permanent home for the Ooks.
“Our field has just been deteriorating so badly in the last five years that it wasn’t ideal to play at the college level,” said Richey who explained that NAIT is now looking for a long term solution for a “home” field.
Currently, about a third of the NAIT field is completely nonexistent, with City of Edmonton crews beginning construction of the Blatchford LRT line.
“The city has said we could finish our season and then they would start construction and when we found out there was no ACAC soccer they just sped that up and went ahead and [started construction].”
With the cancellation of any outdoor play for the Ooks, it gives athletics administration some time to find a new location for practices and games.
“We are still looking at 4 options. Both [the Edmonton Scottish Society and Victoria Soccer Club], The City of Edmonton and the County of Strathcona (Sherwood Park). No formal talks have been had as of yet. Those will begin in November,” explained Richey.
Of the four options, Richey would ideally like to see the Ooks play out of the Edmonton Scottish Society’s Edmonton Soccer Dome, a fully covered and climate-controlled full-length turf soccer pitch. The facility is located south of the Anthony Henday, about 35 minutes away from NAIT.
“That indoor facility, if we can get our home games indoor all the time, for sure when you’re having a home game in October or hosting nationals in November with a full-fledged field – that would be unbelievable,” said Richey.
Blatchford plans, years down the road
NAIT has not finalized any of the building plans for Blatchford after conducting student surveys in 2019, but Richey says that new athletics facilities are a priority for NAIT.
“It would be ideal if we could have a field and a training centre right on campus, and we will, eventually and a gymnasium hopefully for basketball and volleyball,” he said.
“The plan definitely involves soccer to bring soccer closer to NAIT, but we could be five to ten years away from that.”