After a marathon court hearing in Halifax, a judge has ruled Atlantic University Sport must allow a football game between Acadia University and Saint Mary’s University.
“Saint Mary’s University is pleased with the action of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia,” Margaret Murphy, the university’s associate vice-president of external affairs, wrote in a statement shortly after the judge’s decision Sunday night.
The game between the Saint Mary’s Huskies and Acadia Axemen that was slated for this weekend was abruptly cancelled Thursday by AUS, the Atlantic league’s governing body, due to eligibility concerns about one of Saint Mary’s players.
The winner of the Tuesday game will play Western, the Ontario champion from London, in the Uteck Bowl.
Jack could play Tuesday
While it would be up to the coach, Murphy said the university would have no issues with wide receiver Archelaus Jack playing the Nov. 14 game.
Jack was at the centre of the controversy because he was on the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders practice roster until October 2016.
League rules state that any former CFL player, or anyone who remains on a CFL team’s practice roster after Aug. 15, has to wait one year before playing for a university team.
U Sports, the national governing body of university sport in Canada, informed AUS of the potential issue earlier this month.
“All of our players and ready and eligible to take the field,” Murphy said after the decision.
Murphy would not confirm or deny if SMU would take legal action against AUS for cancelling the game, saying the focus now is on the upcoming game.
“We’re just focused on getting to the field,” said Murphy.
AUS defends decision
Phil Currie, executive director of AUS, said the organization respects the decision of the court.
“We know there’s going to be a game played and we wish both teams in that game, the Loney Bowl, a very successful and very safe game Tuesday,” Currie said.
But Currie said AUS still believes “very strongly” its decision to cancel the game despite court proceedings that were ongoing in Ontario at the time. The Ontario court ended up ruling in favour of SMU on the issue of player eligibility.
Currie noted the judge’s decision is interim and AUS will have its time in court, adding “there’s still an eligibility question that is unresolved and that is why we made our decision in the first place.”
“We really believe the court at that time will favour … our decision,” said Currie.
“We still stand behind our values and principles in terms of providing a level playing field to all our participants regardless if it’s in the Loney Bowl or any of our competitions. That’s what we stand behind and will continue to stand behind because that’s who we are.”
Acadia won’t challenge ruling
Acadia’s lawyer declined to comment after the ruling, referring CBC News to the university’s spokesperson for further comment.
Scott Roberts, executive director of communications and marketing at Acadia, said the school will not challenge the ruling.
“That’s what the courts decided so the game will proceed,” said Roberts. “We’re going to get ready for the game on Tuesday, that’s what’s been decided and that’s what we’ll do.”
Lawyers from Saint Mary’s, Acadia University and AUS were back in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Sunday morning after a 5½-hour hearing on Remembrance Day.
The last-minute hearing was held to deal with a motion from Saint Mary’s to have the game reinstated. The university also asked that the case be dealt with on an urgent basis.
Court adjourned Sunday afternoon, and Associate Chief Justice Deborah Smith released her decision at 5 p.m. AT.
SMU ‘geared up and ready’ to play
“The court system seems to recognize the need for a speedy decision,” Murphy said Sunday.
Murphy said Saint Mary’s University is “geared up and ready” for both the Uteck Bowl and the Loney Bowl..
“I think you can see from the demeanour of our coaches and players who have been present that we’re ready to play,” said Murphy.
Murphy said other teams involved “would also have had ample reasons to prepare” to play too.
“We know everyone has been practising. Our team has continued to practise throughout this and we expect that’s the same of the other teams involved as well,” said Murphy.
There will be a tight turnaround between Tuesday’s Loney Bowl game and the Uteck Bowl on Saturday.
That could cause some problems for the players, says Richard MacLean, president of the International Federation of American Football and the past president of both Football Canada and Football Nova Scotia.
Football Canada says there must be a minimum of 48 hours between games so that any possible concussions have time to present, MacLean said.
He said while four days fall within a safe standard, it still presents challenges for students who have other priorities such as upcoming exams.
“You’re going to have players that are still sore, still banged up. That’s not ideal going in to face one of the top teams in the country,” he said.
All sides decided Saturday that if a game was ordered, it would happen Tuesday.
But the lawyer for Acadia University, John Keith, said his team is running out of time because it needs to prepare for the next game against Ontario.
“Acadia abided by all of the decisions that was given to it by the governing body, it won the regular season, it won the right to move on to the Uteck Bowl under the regulations,” Keith said after court was adjourned Sunday.
Keith said people have been asking why Acadia won’t just play the game. He said Acadia players are “entitled to some certainty.”
Keith had argued it would be a game “that it would be played in a haphazard, slap-dash, very rushed way.”
“It would be a game that would be unsafe for the players in terms of recovery time, it would be a game that would do a disservice to the town, to the university, to the fans of Acadia,” said Keith.
The Uteck Bowl is being held in Atlantic Canada this year, and Keith said Acadia was slated to be the host team.
“We were the first-place team. We earned everything that we have right now. We’ve been told that we are the Atlantic champions,” said Keith after Saturday’s hearing.
“To have all of that taken away from us and unravelled is a significant issue for Acadia.”
SMU argues contempt of court
But Saint Mary’s says the question of eligibility has already been decided by an Ontario court judge. Its lawyers argued yesterday that AUS is in contempt of that court order.
Phil Currie, executive director of AUS, testified in court about why the organization cancelled the Loney Bowl. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)
About a dozen people showed up to the courtroom Sunday, including players from the Saint Mary’s Huskies.
Nicholas Bartolacci, centre right guard for the Huskies, said he was pleased with the decision.
“I’m just excited to play. I’m really excited about how things went in there,” said Bartolacci.
Brian Hope, a kicker, said the last few days of uncertainty around the game have been stressful.
“We’ve just been patient and obviously we’re very pleased,” said Hope.
Brad Herbst, a linebacker, agreed.
“We’re ready to play and we’re ready to go,” said Herbst.