From Thursday to Sunday of last week, the Atlantic University Sport championship football game, the Loney Bowl was cancelled, argued about in court and then put back on yesterday at 2 p.m at Acadia. Why did this happen? And what does it mean for the rest of the U Sports football playoffs and beyond? This article will explain what happened and what could be the fallout from this situation.
In early November, U Sports investigated a complaint made by Mount Allison’s Director of Athletics, Pierre Arsenault on behalf of four AUS football teams into a Saint Mary’s player’s eligibility. SMU and Acadia were scheduled to play the Loney Bowl on Saturday but the investigation still wasn’t complete, forcing the AUS to cancel the game. In a press release, AUS Executive Director, Phil Currie said “cancelling the AUS Loney Bowl is unfortunately the only avenue we feel we can take, as a conference, at this time. However, we believe this decision protects the integrity and fairness of the 2017 AUS football season.”
The ineligibility issue is about Saint Mary’s receiver Archelaus Jack. Jack was cut by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League on Oct. 11, 2016 and has been playing with Saint Mary’s Huskies since August. U Sports policies are that a player must sit out one year after being a part of a professional team “that directly or indirectly confers a monetary benefit to the athlete after August 15.”
The Ontario Superior Court granted Saint Mary’s an injunction against U Sports, which meant the investigation into the eligibility issue, had been put on hold, therefore U Sports are not allowed to cancel the Loney Bowl. However, the decision to cancel the game is an AUS decision and because the game is being played under the AUS jurisdiction, there was nothing U Sports could do about it.
The issue ended up being debated in court with Associate Chief Justice, Deborah Smith, ruling on Sunday evening that the game should be played.
This is not Saint Mary’s first eligibility issue of the season. They had to forfeit their first game of the year against St. Francis Xavier University on Aug. 25 when it was determined in October that they dressed a player that didn’t meet the U Sports academic requirements. The incident was a mistake by SMU and they voluntarily told U Sports about it.
The game was played on Tuesday at Raymond Field at Acadia University. Luckily for AUS fans it was a fantastic game. The game was tied at 35 and headed to overtime. Both teams traded field goals on their first drives in OT keeping the game tied. Then Acadia scored a touchdown and got the extra point to make the game 45-38 which forced Saint Mary’s to tie the game on their next drive to continue overtime. Saint Mary’s got to second and goal and were at the cusp of tying the game but SMU’s quarterback, Kaleb Scott’s pass was intercepted by Acadia’s defensive back Rory Kelly, winning the game for Acadia.
Acadia’s win allows for U Sports Football playoffs go back to normal
Acadia’s win allows for the U Sports playoffs to proceed as expected. Acadia will face the University of Western Ontario in the Uteck Bowl on Saturday at Acadia University. The winner will travel to Hamilton to play in the U Sports national championship game, the Vanier Cup.
This could have been messy if Saint Mary’s won. If the Huskies won and Jack is deemed eligible then everything is fine, if he is deemed ineligible then it gets complicated. According to the U Sports policies and procedures, if a team allows the an ineligible player to compete then they are given a level three infraction which can be punishable through many formats including forfeiting the games Jack has played in, including the Loney Bowl. Due to the fact that SMU had to forfeit the StFX game earlier in the season due to an ineligible player being dressed, chances are SMU would be forced to forfeit the Loney Bowl. That could have lead to two results. Even though Acadia lost the game, a forfeit would make them the winners and allow them to play in the Uteck Bowl. Throwing off Western’s game preparation. The other option is cancelling the Uteck Bowl and allowing Western to move on. Acadia’s win allows the investigation into Jack’s eligibility to be complete without having any impact on the rest of the playoffs.
Life still isn’t normal to Acadia
Even though Acadia can put the Loney Bowl behind them, they are still in unfamiliar territory.
One of the main issues with this game being played is the lack of rest for the players; Acadia now has only four days until the Uteck Bowl. Football is obviously a physically demanding sport and players need to time to recover between games. That’s why football games are only played once a week, these are student athletes with full course loads, not professional athletes. Richard MacLean, president of the International Federation of American Football explained that four days to play a football game is not ideal because some players still could be recovering from sore muscles and bruises. He thinks there is a possibility of more injuries being sustained in the Uteck Bowl because of the short rest time.
“There is that chance, it is not a given or a mathematical calculation, but there is that chance,” said Maclean.
Nicholas Frew of the Signal reported Acadia’s lawyer, John Keith, said in court that there is a risk to the health of Acadia’s athletes if the Loney Bowl is to be played because of the short time before the Uteck Bowl.
Luckily, Acadia had extended time off before the Loney Bowl. Before Tuesday’s game, Acadia hadn’t played since Oct. 21, because they had a bye through the first game of the playoffs since they finished at the top of the league.
There’s also an issue with preparation: since most games are a week apart, Maclean explained most teams have a routine each day to get ready for game day. That routine will need to be changed in order for Acadia to get ready to play Western.
Even though Western found out yesterday who they’re playing, they have the advantage of having that full week’s rest and able to prepare for both teams. Acadia had to either prepare for Western and try to get ready for the Loney Bowl the same time, or focus all their energy on the Loney Bowl and then give themselves four days to focus on Western. Either way, Western has an advantage. This isn’t good for Acadia. Western is undefeated and beat Wilfrid Laurier University 75-32 in their previous playoff game. They are a tough opponent to play at the best of times.
What happens if this situation happens again?
What do U Sports and the AUS do if there is an ineligibility issue against a player in a playoff game again? It’s highly unlikely the game will be cancelled again due to the negative backlash and a legal precedent that allowed the game to be played. U Sports is now going to have to come up with a firm policy on this type of situation. Some ideas could be not allowing the investigated player to play and if that player is deemed eligible, giving the team some sort of reimbursement. Another option is allowing the investigated player to play, but if that player is deemed ineligible, fining that player’s team and giving the money to the opposing team. It is not an easy solution, but something has to be done to make sure this situation doesn’t happen again.