As confusion swirls, SMU pushes for cancelled championship game to go ahead

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Game scheduled for Saturday was cancelled yesterday by Atlantic University Sport

Saint Mary's University quarterback Kaleb Scott.

Saint Mary’s University officials are pushing for a last-minute reprieve in the cancelled Atlantic conference championship football game, arguing it should still go ahead this weekend after an Ontario judge sided with the school in a controversy over player eligibility.

The Halifax university said it reached an agreement on Oct. 27 with U Sports, the national governing body for university sports in the country, that there weren’t any outstanding player eligibility issues.

According to court documents, the agreement came about after Saint Mary’s threatened U Sports with court action over the matter. In exchange for the university not pursuing legal action, U Sports agreed not to investigate the eligibility issue, said the written decision released Friday by Ontario Superior Court Judge Todd Archibald.

The controversy revolves around Saint Mary’s wide receiver Archelaus Jack and the application of an other-league participation rule, which dictates that any former CFL player, or a player who remains on a CFL team’s practice roster after Aug. 15, has to wait one year before playing for a Canadian university team.

The CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders released Jack from their practice squad on Oct. 11, 2016.

Jack has played in every Saint Mary’s game this season. Prior to Oct. 11, 2017, he played in five games for the Huskies this season.

Court action in Ontario

Earlier this week, SMU filed court documents with the Ontario Superior Court to have the U Sports agreement enforced, resulting in Archibald granting a temporary injunction Friday morning. The court action was filed in Ontario because that’s where U Sports is based.

According to the decision, Saint Mary’s said its understanding of the one-year CFL rule was that it was one academic year, not a calendar year. That interpretation would mean Jack was only ineligible for the 2016-2017 school year.

But Atlantic University Sport (AUS) had already cancelled on Thursday the championship game that was scheduled for Saturday between the Saint Mary’s Huskies and the Acadia Axemen.

Saint Mary's football

The Saint Mary’s Huskies in action against the Acadia Axemen. (Nick Pearce)

AUS executive director Phil Currie told CBC News Thursday that the reason the organization got involved was because it wasn’t clear when the court would make a decision. He said there were legitimate concerns around Jack’s eligibility.

Ontario judge’s decision

Archibald’s decision noted Saint Mary’s is concerned about the reputational harm that the controversy will cause to the university, as well as damage to its ability to recruit players. He agreed with that.

“I also accept that alumni and members of SMU’s staff are concerned about the impact that these events will have on SMU’s alumni relations, fund raising (sic), and the general recruitment of students to SMU,” Archibald wrote.

The decision said U Sports believed that while it agreed to stop its investigation into Jack’s eligibility, if another university filed a complaint, that would give it the green light to resume investigating the matter.

Archibald did not find this argument persuasive and found U Sports breached the settlement agreement it had reached with the university. 

SMU wants game to go ahead

Margaret Murphy, SMU’s associate vice-president of external affairs, said the school would like to see the game to go ahead this weekend.

“It’s up to AUS to do the right thing here, to reverse the very sudden and arbitrary action that they took yesterday … [and]put the game back on,” she said.

‘We have no direct jurisdiction,’ says U Sports

At a news conference on Friday afternoon, U Sports said it has no authority over AUS and it has no say in whether the football game goes ahead.

“Although we collaborate and work hand in hand very closely, [we’re] two distinct organizations of which we have no direct jurisdiction over league play or competition play in the conference,” said president and CEO Graham Brown. 

“The AUS now have to handle the situation, we support the direction, we support their approach and we would support any outcome that they deem acceptable, it will be acceptable and supported by U Sports.”

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