COVID-19 has affected everything and everyone negatively for almost a year. As we are in the early stages of the new year, most college students return back to campus for restricted in-person learning. College athletes on the other hand have really faced the full brunt of this pandemic as they have had to isolate themselves from the majority of social on-campus environments. With last year’s annual NCAA men and women’s basketball tournament cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, it put the rest of college athletics into a world of uncertainty.
Along with the tournament last year, all spring semester sports and activities were cancelled as many were skeptical this virus would affect future college athletic events down the line. This has led to many schools’ athletic programs operating entirely different due to many protocols that have been put in place. This is not an ordinary collegiate season that we are accustomed to. Most schools have cancelled their fall athletic sports along with many games being postponed or cancelled due to outbreaks of positive tests within the teams faculty and staff. With all these new restrictions and guidelines put in place one may ask how are these college athletes handling this new situation along with being away from family, friends and loved ones.
Caleb Burgess a sophomore business finance major who plays for the Hofstra Pride University Men’s Basketball team discusses what it’s like playing a season during the pandemic, having no fans in attendance, balancing between being a college student and a college athlete during the pandemic where everything is now virtual and how the pandemic is affecting him along with the rest of the players on the team.
Tell me where you were and how you felt when you found out that your season was coming to an end as games were being cancelled when the pandemic first broke out back in March of last year?
I heard about it the next day after we won our conference tournament and punched our ticket to get into the NCAA Tournament. The next morning, we got up and saw breaking news. Everything was cancelled. It was a hard time because we did all that work to go into the tournament, did everything we were supposed to. We finally made it into the tournament for the first time in 19 years and we couldn’t go. That was pretty tough. It affected me because when I went home back to North Carolina it was a hot zone. It was hard to get into gyms, I couldn’t work on my games. They even took the rims out of the outdoor courts; it was crazy.
When were you guys allowed back on campus to start training camp and get ready for the upcoming season?
I got back to Hofstra around Aug 20. But we did not get back into the gym until Sep 7. Even when we were on campus they told us we had to wait around two-four weeks then we were lifting, doing conditioning cardio workouts for two weeks straight. We didn’t even touch a basketball. We didn’t touch a basketball ‘till the end of September, that’s when we started having practice and individual workouts.
Did you have any hopes there would be a 2020-21 season or did you think it would get cancelled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic?
I was really in the middle. If we play it would be a good thing, but if we didn’t, I wouldn’t have been mad, I understand it because I see teams cancelling games and their season right now. There’s a lot going on in the world right now so I understand it.
What is it like playing with no fans in the arenas and does it take the joy and fun out of playing basketball?
I wouldn’t say it takes the joy out of it. It is tougher to manufacture energy if you don’t bring your own energy, you’re probably gonna lose. There’s nobody in there but y’all. That’s how most of our games have been this year. In the games we play with energy, we blow teams out and play really good but the games we don’t and we come out flat we lose. It evens out the playing field. For example, if we go play in North Carolina or Duke you know they have crazy fans but there’s none of that. it’s just two teams out there hooping so you don’t have to worry about the home court advantage.
What has it been like waking up for practice and the day-to-day routines on campus with these COVID-19 restrictions, and new protocols?
For us here at Hofstra, when we lift we have to wear a mask, but when we get on the court and play basketball, we can take it off. We also get tested three times a week like Tuesday, Thursday and rotates between Saturday and or Sunday. It all depends on what either day of the weekend they want to do. That’s really it on the COVID protocol testing side.
What have the protocols and procedures been like traveling for away games and do you guys have to quarantine when you have games out of state?
It depends on how long you are there. We haven’t stayed more than 24 hours in a different state yet. We would take a bus trip there late that night or early morning depending on the time of the game. For example, when we played at Delaware we got there at 10 at night, played a one o’clock afternoon game, got back on the bus, then came back, then went back down Friday the same night. So we would take different trips, we wouldn’t have to quarantine. We would maybe stay in a state for 10-18 hours at most around that region. We get tested so much they don’t really enforce it to us at the moment. That’s pretty much every other day and you’re gonna know who has it or who doesn’t.
What about testing before games? Is that required and if so how is that?
It depends on each conference’s rules and regulations. When we played Rutgers, we had to test three hours before and wait to get the result back. That’s a Big 10 Conference rule and each rule varies based on each conference.
Did you guys have a player or staff test positive for coronavirus and if so how did you guys handle that situation?
We had one, but not in season. Before the season if someone tested positive that specific player had to stay away and quarantine from the team for two weeks, same with the staff. If you’re from New York, you can go home and quarantine. But now in season, if someone on the roster has it, then the whole team has to shut down activities for two weeks no questions about it. If you do test positive, they put you in a housing on campus specifically for people who have to quarantine.
Talk about how it is academically for you as your sophomore year in college. Are most of your classes online or are there some in-person classes with restrictions?
Most of my classes are online, I had one in-person last semester. We had to log into our computer with our academic advisor and for spring semester the same thing.
How has the lack of interpersonal communication personally affected you or your teammates this year with everything being limited with face-to-face contact ? Has that taken the joy out of being a college student and college athlete?
With playing yeah we just mainly go to practice and come back to our dorms, that’s it. A lot of players’ mental health hasn’t been too good because they’ve been so isolated. You can’t really go and interact with people, you mainly have to be around your teammates. Even in terms of partying where I’m from in North Carolina you see it, but here on campus there has been none of that. It has definitely taken the joy out of being a college student, but at the same time i don’t really interact with people as much. I stay to myself, so it wasn’t really a big deal to me, but sometimes you want to go out and not stay in your room. You gotta think about it like this season is gonna be over in roughly two months and if you made it this far might as well finish it off.
What do you think about the possibility of allowing fans back in arenas for games later this season?
No it’s probably not gonna happen It depends on the school though. Some schools allow their family to come. We went to Richmond; they allowed some players to invite their families. I think they will be better prepared for it next year. This year they kind of forced this season to happen, so they decided on no fans. Next year they will have a way to get fans in there whether it’s one-quarter, half capacity 25%.
How do your Family and friends watch the games since they can’t be in attendance?
My brothers, my mom, my dad, and my aunts, they always tune into my games. Most of our games are on FloHoops so you can get an eight- dollar subscription and you can watch most of the CAA games on there for the whole year.
Interesting to note that this year of playing does not count towards athletes scholarship year of eligibility because of COVID as Caleb stated, So everyone gets a free year of playing but some seniors on the basketball team do not plan on coming back and playing next year. Burgess himself is undecided on what he will do in the future with getting an extra year of playing eligibility as he will be a sophomore again on the basketball court, but a junior academically.