University football

Judge rules for playing AUS Loney Bowl

Conference football championship was cancelled Thursday over questions of SMU player eligibility

SMU head coach James Colzie III speaking outside the courtroom after the Loney Bowl decision.   Nicholas Frew

After a three-day whirlwind, Associate Chief Justice Deborah Smith ruled on Sunday that Acadia and Saint Mary’s universities should meet for the regional men’s football championship within 48 hours.

“I want this game to take place by Tuesday,” Smith said in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Smith found it was appropriate to grant Saint Mary’s University (SMU) an injunction on an emergency basis and said she believes the cancelled Loney Bowl should be played.

As Smith read her decision, the SMU coaches and players in court looked at each other with a mix of contained exuberance and relief.

“We’ve been ready for the last 48 hours,” James Colzie III, SMU head coach, said outside the courtroom.

Three players — offensive lineman Nicholas Bartolacci, kicker Brian Hope and linebacker Brad Herbst — said that the team is ready to play.

Margaret Murphy, vice-president of external affairs at SMU, also welcomed the decision.

“We are pleased that the Court has agreed with our position that the game should proceed,” Murphy said in a statement. She said the ruling requires SMU, Acadia University and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) to work together to reinstate the conference championship game.

Phil Currie, AUS executive director, said they respect the decision and “we wish both teams in the Loney Bowl a very successful and safe game on Tuesday.”

The Saint Mary’s Huskies and the Acadia Axemen were scheduled to play the Loney Bowl on Remembrance Day. The AUS, the regional body overseeing university sports, cancelled it on Thursday, due to an ongoing investigation into a SMU player’s eligibility. Acadia advanced to the national semifinal by default.

On Friday, SMU turned to the Supreme Court to try to get the game reinstated. A hearing was held Saturday afternoon — the day the game was supposed to be played at Acadia — and Sunday.

Sunday’s proceedings

The AUS stood by the claim that it has jurisdiction to cancel the Loney Bowl.

Bruce Clarke, lawyer for the AUS, said in court that “we can’t lose sight of the next game,” scheduled for Nov. 18. He said if student-athletes — from Acadia and SMU alike — move forward to compete in the national semifinal game, the Uteck Bowl, the student-athletes would need to have recovery time.

Acadia didn’t want the Loney Bowl to go ahead at this point. John Keith, the lawyer for the university, said there’s “a lot of blame to be spread around,” except for Acadia.

“This is a first-class mess,” he said.

When reading her decision, associate chief justice Smith quoted those words and said “it wasn’t far off.”

Keith said the health of Acadia athletes could be at risk if the Loney Bowl went forward. With a Tuesday game, Keith said that would only give four days to prepare for the next championship game. During a regular season players would normally have a week to prepare.

Lawyers for Acadia did not speak to media after court was adjourned Sunday evening.

SMU vs. Acadia

Earlier in court, the lawyer for SMU, Robert Belliveau, acknowledged the disadvantage to Acadia if the Loney Bowl went forward, but said SMU would be at a greater loss if it was excluded completely.

“Just give [SMU] notice and we’ll have the game ready in 24 hours,” he told the court.

Belliveau raised questions about the AUS executive committee that cancelled the game and said that it doesn’t legally exist. He said the fair thing to do would be to let SMU play.

Keith, Acadia’s lawyer, argued back that SMU doesn’t have evidence that Saint Mary’s can put the game together within 24 hours. He said that if the Loney Bowl did take place in Halifax, Acadia would miss out on what was granted to them and also the chance to host.

That point, however, is now moot. According to the AUS website, the Loney Bowl is slated for Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. at Acadia University.

U Sports unable to intervene

U Sports, the national governing body of university sport, was continuing the investigation into the eligibility of Huskies wide receiver Archelaus Jack when the AUS cancelled the game.

U Sports had received a complaint, but SMU said the question of eligibility had been settled.

“Saint Mary’s reaffirms our position that the player eligibility question was put to rest and there isn’t and hasn’t been any impediment to Saint Mary’s position to play in the Loney Ball,” SMU VP Margaret Murphy said in her statement.

The Ontario Superior Court granted SMU a temporary injunction against U Sports Friday, putting its investigation on hold. The matter was handled in Ontario because that’s where U Sports is based.

The injunction means that U Sports could not intervene in the Loney Bowl decision.

The winner of the Loney Bowl will move on to host the Ontario University Athletic champs, the Western Mustangs, in the Uteck Bowl on Nov. 18.

 

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