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Omnifield Closed Pending Replacement Next Fall Term

By Kevin R. Lang
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

After years of failed repair attempts and complaints from student athletes at all competitive levels, the MIT Department of Athletics has closed the astroturf omnifield for all organized sporting events.

Director of Athletics Dr. Richard A. Hill said that the field was officially closed late last week after his department submitted their report to senior administrators. The report followed a meeting on March 23 with representatives from the Department of Facilities and student athletes from varsity, club, and intramural sports.

After years of trying to restore the field base, MIT will replace the field “absolutely” by the coming fall term, Hill said. The sand base underneath the field surface swelled and moved with weather changes, and this past winter deteriorated the field more than anticipated.

“In a short period of time, the repaired sections kept moving on us,” Hill said. Currently, much of the highly worn field is scattered with sand that reached the surface.

Plans for replacing the field have already begun, and officials are currently evaluating the site and reviewing potential field surfaces, Hill said. “We want a high quality product on the field,” he said.

Shortly after the proposal was presented to the administration, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 and Provost Robert A. Brown “made a very strong decision to move quickly,” Hill said.

With the omnifield closed, practices and games for varsity men’s lacrosse, club sports, and intramurals will be displaced to Briggs field. “The field was unable to support our practice and competitive situation,” Hill said.

To counter scheduling problems with Briggs, Hill met with officials from Facilities, the Planning Office, and Athletics to identify alternative sites for intramural sports, especially softball. Hill said that lights from the omnifield might be moved to Steinbrenner Stadium to allow longer hours of play. The omnifield was MIT’s only lighted facility, allowing play from 7:30 to midnight each evening. Athletics officials are also looking into nearby off-campus facilities.

To handle the increased traffic, Facilities will start more regular maintenance and upkeep of Briggs field.

Injuries motivate closure

Part of the motivation to close the omnifield was the high frequency of possibly turf-related injuries. Hill said that while trainers could not be certain that the damaged turf actually caused the injuries, a high number of ankle injuries and sprains did occur on the field. Kathy J. Davis, an Athletic Trainer, said that she “did happen to see two injuries myself this year that were directly attributable to the condition of the turf.” Davis compiled a report on such injuries as part of the group’s proposal, but did not have numbers available.

Although the field is closed to official use, it has not been physically blocked off due to the high amount of foot traffic going between West Campus and the athletic facilities and student center.

Students dissatisfied with field

Late Monday afternoon, the Omnifield was in use by the MIT Graduate Soccer Club. Alex C. Snoeren G, a club officer said that “the turf is horrible, everybody knows that. It’s always been unsafe.” The league Snoeren’s team plays in deemed the omnifield unsafe last year, thus forcing the team to practice and play elsewhere. “It’s been like this for so long,” Snoeren said. “Officially we’re in Johnson.”

The men’s varsity lacrosse team, which usually plays and practices on the omnifield, was pleased with the move to Briggs, said team member Timothy P. Nolan ’01. Nolan said that playing on Briggs was “much better. Both fields are crappy, but the Omnifield is the worst field I’ve played on in my entire athletic career.” Nolan did not know of any specific turf injuries, but said that “everyone scrapes their knees and it gets really slick” in wet weather.

“MIT’s facilities in general are lacking, and it would be nice to see some more funding going to update and or maintain the fields,” Nolan said.