With their seasons slowly slipping away, frustrated Brandon University Bobcats players have had enough of the BU faculty strike.
Members of all teams are scheduled to gather at the Brandon University Faculty Association head office this morning to meet with the bargaining committee and urge them to allow all Bobcats coaches to resume running their teams. The Bobcats players will be asking BUFA and BU administration to declare the positions of the four head coaches as essential services and grant them an exemption to coach their teams — but not teach classes — while the strike continues.
"I don’t know what BUFA will say, but we will try," said Ali-Mounir Benabdelhak, a first-year member of the Bobcats men’s basketball team who is one of the BU athlete representatives who will plead their case to the BUFA bargaining committee today. "Every athlete is going to BUFA (this morning)."
Bobcat student-athletes have been hit doubly hard by the BU faculty strike, not only losing a month of classes but with three of the four teams starting ultra-competitive Canada West conference play without their head coaches. While part-time interim women’s basketball coach Ritchie Jacobson — who is not a full-time BU faculty member — has returned to coach his Bobcats women’s team, Gil Cheung (men’s basketball), Lee Carter (women’s volleyball) and Russ Paddock (men’s volleyball) are all full-time BUFA members who have not been allowed to coach their teams while the strike stretches into its fifth week. Crossing the picket line is not a realistic option for them, either, since fellow BUFA members sit on hiring and tenure committees and essentially hold their coaching futures in their hands.
While BU’s men’s basketball team has started the season 1-1, the Bobcats women’s hoops team (0-2), men’s volleyball team (1-3) and women’s volleyball squad (0-4) are all off to tough starts without their head coaches.
"We’re 0-and-4 right now and some of our losses, you don’t want to put the blame on the strike alone, but it’s a huge factor in it, for sure," said Jaryn Ruether, a fifth-year member of the BU women’s volleyball team. "Pre-season was one thing and everyone was really good about adapting to it and our assistant coaches have been doing an awesome job. But it has been going on for so long that it’s getting to the point where enough is enough already."
The Bobcat student-athletes will be citing a clause in the contract BU signed with Canadian Interuniversity Sport that guarantees that each team has "responsible leadership" and a high level of professional competence. Some of the assistant coaches who are currently trying to run the teams do not even possessing teaching degrees, nor high level coaching certification.
Bobcats men’s volleyball player Craig Lowe said that although the assistant coaches have done a commendable job of filling in for Paddock, the strike has certainly had an effect on his team’s slow start after finishing second in the country last season.
"(Acting coach) Grant Wilson is a great coach and I think he’s done a very good job with the boys, but Russ has played in the Olympics and he’s a very knowledgeable coach and (the strike) has hurt us ... and we would like to have a couple of more wins under our belt," said Lowe, whose team faces its biggest weekend of the year when Brandon battles the defending CIS champion Trinity Western Spartans in a rematch of last year’s final this Friday and Saturday at the BU gymnasium. "We have Trinity Western this weekend, who we faced in the national final last year, so it would be good to have him back for this weekend."
As an international student who pays double tuition, the strike has been doubly distressing for Lowe, who came halfway around the world from Australia to study at BU and represent the school nationally with the Bobcats.
"It’s pretty frustrating," Lowe said. "I came here to get my degree in physical education, but it’s kind of being held up ... I was pretty excited to come over here from Australia and I probably won’t be able to go back now, I will probably have to stay here now in the summer or spring to do more courses and maybe get a job as well so I can try to come back for next year. So my mom’s not all that happy."
For his part, Benabdelhak was also heavily recruited and came all the way from Montreal to attend BU and play for the Bobcats.
"I had been called by many different coaches to play for their basketball team, but I chose BU because I had heard it was a great school and Coach Cheung is a great coach," Benabdelhak said. "I know that with his help and my hard work I am going to become a better basketball player and I was very excited about this experience ... So (the strike) is very frustrating."
For Ruether, another out-of-town student from Grande Prairie, Alta., the strike is not only damaging her final season of CIS athletics, but affecting her ability to complete her degree.
"As a fifth-year player and I’m in my third year of nursing, it has been very frustrating not only not having classes, but having our coach taken away, is I guess the best way to put it," Ruether said. "It has been extremely hard on our team. For example, we had no coaches at our practice (Monday) because our assistant coaches are students as well, so they are student teaching and it just puts the team in a really tough position and we need our coach back ...
"It’s frustrating when our season is still going and we can’t make up these games later on, like we can with classes. It is being determined now whether we will make it in playoffs or not and without Lee there, it has been a huge impact on our team."