By Damien Ovalle
Whether it’s a Division I or JUCO, student-athletes across the country are feeling the impacts of COVID-19 on their athletic programs. These imbalances are apparent when some programs are given a base of amenities that for other sports are seen as a luxury.
From volleyball to basketball, every college sports team took a major hit in funding, safety, and overall participation in collegiate sports. As COVID cases subside, teams are adjusting and calling for changes.
“It needs to pick back up again as it was,” said Aleah Rafat, a Brooklyn College sophomore and dual athlete.
At Brooklyn College, teams are part of Division III, CUNYAC, and ECAC conferences, and are no strangers to the effects of COVID and the inequality in resource distribution within athletic programs.
BC Athletics has taken a turn over the past 30 years, changing its culture from losing games to garnering championships and recognition. At the front of that shift is the women’s basketball team leading the Bulldogs to two titles in the last three years. With their wins, the team has seemingly been prioritized over other teams, according to Rafat.
“I had a completely different experience with volleyball than basketball,” said Rafat. “Volleyball I felt was less important on the school’s radar.” Experiencing both the good and bad, Rafat noticed a shift in priority right away moving into her basketball season. What’s normal for the women’s volleyball team is seen as foreign compared to the conditions of the women’s basketball team. “It was weird to see how going from one sport to the next, how much more organized it was,” she said.
“Despite COVID, we didn’t receive our shoes till the semi-final game of the season, we didn’t get half of our gear till the end of the season, our buses weren’t fantastic and we turned in our spandex to reuse them the next year.”
This isn’t the first time where their voices were heard and nothing was done about it. Prior to the current school year, women’s volleyball took matters into their own hands reaching out to the Athletics Department to express their lack of equipment and other amenities. However, the outcome of that resulted in nothing changing in the current school year.
“This year we’ve already written a letter about transportation and how unacceptable it is,” Rafat said, expressing her disappointment with the institution to even find out that this bussing issue existed before she was with the team.
When asked about the continued frustration with players amongst BC Athletics, according to Coach Alex Lang, BC Athletics Director, these delays in gear shipment were due to COVID. The COVID-19 supply chain issues are mainly at fault, as gear is ordered earlier in the year in hopes that it would arrive on time for the fall seasonal sports. For the upcoming winter and spring seasons, the gear will arrive on time, noted Lang. Uniforms for each team are meant to be worn for multiple years at a time due to budgetary limits and when it comes to transportation it’s being looked into.
“The Athletics Department is always looking for ways to improve our program and the experience for all our student-athletes,” wrote Lang in a statement to the Vanguard.
“[…] While the Athletics Department has faced COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges, funding is not at the forefront. Recruiting was a challenge throughout the pandemic, but we are hopeful that our coaching staff will be able to move our teams forward as we look to compete at the highest level.”
As the players continue to deal with this situation, the majority are dealing with the setbacks and focusing on trying to have a successful season. “We’re trying to give them the benefit of the doubt,” said Rafat. “[…] As much as our school wants us to represent them we want to be given the things that need to present a good image.”
While her experiences are shared by other athletes, there are similarities and differences in their overall experience and feelings toward the school. When more students began rolling back onto campus in fall of 2021, the sports teams on pause gradually returned and brought about mixed reactions from student-athletes.
“I wouldn’t say that it was the best experience but we worked with it because we wanted to play basketball,” said Serge Thraysbule, a junior and basketball player, who arrived at Brooklyn College when all sports were stopped due to COVID. “Me and my teammates knew we weren’t the only ones going through that situation.”
The men’s basketball team had a different experience when it came to their apparel. “We received sneakers and sweatsuits and we fundraised ourselves,” he said. While they did fundraise for things such as shirts and things for their own families, the school provided the rest.
“While we are grateful for the things given to us, some things they could improve on, and my teammates could agree is better basketball gear in general, we just want to improve on what we have,” Thraysbule said.
While both these prominent athletes play at the same school and even attend the same classes, their experiences differ from one another when they become athletes. But each is determined to do the best for their team.
“I just want to be a better version of myself for my team,” said Thraysbule.