Just weeks before the new school year, University of Ottawa athletes are learning that the Varsity Track and Field team is being downgraded; the result of a funding cut after the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I feel pretty betrayed by the university, especially since I feel like half of my competitive season is gone because of the pandemic," Brooklyn McCormick, who is entering her fourth year with the team said.

According to a video viewed by CTV News Ottawa, the university reports a near $700,000 deficit. The total cost of the funding cut for the Varsity Track and Field team has not been released, but the change will downgrade the team to the university’s second tier of sports teams: varsity clubs.

"There will be some financial impact as you go, because going from a tier one to a tier two, what you potentially lose is the dollars that would be paid to go to OUA championships or to a U Sports championship," Susan Hylland, the University of Ottawa director of Varsity Athletics can be heard telling the Track and Field team in a video obtained by CTV News.

The resulting cuts mean the costs of training fees, meets, and other competitions could fall to the athletes, without added funding from the school.

One running coach, familiar with the situation, tells CTV News funding from the University of Ottawa brought down the cost of travel for meets by a factor of roughly eight to ten.

"You do not feel like a Gee-Gee when all these other teams - it feels as though they are being prioritized over us," Vienna Courteau, a runner going into her second year with the team said.

The decision to cut funding comes after a banner year in 2021 that saw the Gee-Gees set a new national record in the women’s 4x400 relay, and will see a number of the team’s athletes compete at the Canada Summer Games.

"We kind of came to this update meeting thinking the school would give us more and spur us on and to the have the opposite happen is so heartbreaking," Doyin Ogunremi, a member of the record-breaking relay team and a third-year member of the Gee-Gees said.

Other athletes say they are worried that cutting the already sparse funding - which leaned heavily on community facilities - will mean the program loses its competitive edge and leaves those already committed to the team in limbo. 

"They offered to possibly give us some funding back for a transition year, and some access to resources. It’s all been really vague, but if that’s the case it’s kind of like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound," Elizabeth Moreland, a third-year member of the team said.

In a statement, Hylland said, "Our intention has always been to support them so they can continue to compete as Gee-Gees at U Sports…We will meet with them again later this week to over the details of the funding and support services that will continue to be provided."

Those on the team say the changes as they stand have many reconsidering donning the jersey again in the future.

"If I had known this was going to happen, I would have never accepted an offer from the University of Ottawa and especially knowing what I know now, I won’t be returning to the university for my master's program," McCormick said.