Adding football at Ontario Tech still a long shot

Ontario Tech athletic director Scott Barker says Ridgebacks football right now isn't possible. Photo credit: Piri Sinnathurai

Just because you could cheer on Ontario Tech Ridgebacks basketball this year for the first time, don’t be expecting football anytime soon.

Ridgebacks athletic director Scott Barker breaks it down into four parts – cost, stadium, overall student interest and player safety. With so many obstacles to overcome, he says a football team at Ontario Tech isn’t realistic.

Cost plays a big role as the equipment itself can run as high as $800 per player– and in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA), each team has 55 players on the roster.

“The way athletics and recreation are set up at the university is that we are funded through student fees,” says Barker, adding that the only way football could make it at Ontario Tech is by increasing student fees to manage program cost. He says that’s something the university has no plans to do.

Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and U Sports (the national governing body of university sport) have regulations about what a suitable facility and stadium on campus looks like. Barker says Vaso’s Field doesn’t meet those qualifications for capacity and would need goalposts as well. Ontario Tech would need to either renovate Vaso’s Field or build an entirely new stadium.

“We always look to bring in sports or look at sports that are going to connect with as many students on campus as possible,” says Barker.

Are there enough students interested in football here on campus?

“If you look at it from the standpoint of where football is going in the province and in the country, I think it’s safe to say it’s not on the upward swing,” says Barker.

One reason why that’s the case is player safety. Fewer parents are willing to let their kids play football and that has an effect on who is playing the sport at a high school and university level.

Barker says if Ontario Tech ever had a football program, concussion management and education would become a focus. He adds that’s something from a staff and resource standpoint that the university is not prepared for at this time.

“I don’t get a lot of questions about bringing on football,” says Barker. “I do get a handful of students who would love to see it but those students are more fans as opposed to those who would play.”

So, could football be an option in 10-15 years? Barker says it would depend on the enrolment.

“If we’re in a situation in 15 years where enrolment has gone from 10,000 to 25,000 then we have more student dollars that we can put towards programming,” he says. “We wouldn’t just directly go to football. We’d be looking at the students to tell us what they are looking for.”

Barker did play football in high school himself. He cheers for the Green Bay Packers and does have a love for the game.

“As a fan, I’d love to see it,” he says. “As an athletic director, there’s a lot more that goes into the thought process.”

Ontario Tech does have intramural flag football. He says that’s realistically where football on campus could grow.

“It was small to start,” says Barker. “We didn’t have facilities on campus so it was tough because we had to send students down to the Civic (indoor soccer centre) but now that we have the field on campus, both indoor and outdoor, you can run viable flag football leagues all year round.”