University football

‘I’ll give yes or no answer tomorrow night,’ says Justice Smith

SMU, AUS hearing to reconvene Sunday morning

SMU lawyers head for Courtroom 301 Saturday afternoon.   Tunde Balogun

The decision regarding the Saint Mary’s University (SMU) football case is expected on Sunday.

“I’m really tired,” said Associate Chief Justice Deborah Smith before adjourning court Saturday, acknowledging that representatives from SMU, Acadia University and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) agreed a game needs to be played by Tuesday.

“I’ll give a yes or no answer tomorrow night.”

SMU was back in court Saturday over the cancellation of the AUS football championship final it was supposed to play this weekend.

The Saint Mary’s Huskies were set to face the Acadia Axemen in the Loney Bowl on Saturday. On Thursday, the AUS, the regional governing body of university athletics, cancelled the game due to an ongoing investigation into SMU team member Archelaus Jack’s eligibility.

The decision meant Acadia, which topped the standings, advanced to the national semifinal by default.

In order to get the game reinstated, SMU turned to the courts. A hearing began Friday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court after SMU filed a motion asking for the matter to be dealt with swiftly, hoping the game might be rescheduled.

The case resumed Saturday afternoon, with a heated cross-examination between SMU lawyer Robert Belliveau and Phil Currie, executive director of the AUS.

On the stand, Currie said the AUS could not ensure fairness because of the question about Jack’s eligibility. Currie said part of his role as executive director is to uphold values of the AUS, so he cancelled the game.

Currie had “no comment” when leaving Nova Scotia Supreme Court Saturday night.

U Sports injunction

U Sports, the national governing body of university sport, was investigating Jack when the game was cancelled.

Early Friday, SMU was granted a temporary injunction against U Sports by the Ontario Superior Court, putting its investigation on hold. It also meant U Sports cannot intervene with the cancellation of the Loney Bowl.

SMU believes they had a binding agreement with U Sports that there would be no investigation, so the game shouldn’t have been cancelled.

“It is our position that the Loney Bowl should be played this weekend to decide the AUS conference champion properly, through a game of football,” Margaret Murphy, associate vice-president of external affairs at SMU, said in a statement Friday morning.

Graham Brown, U Sports president and CEO, said it was the AUS that cancelled the Loney Bowl because U Sports doesn’t have jurisdiction over the AUS.

“In our opinion, the game must be played,” he told reporters Friday.

AUS teams are members of U Sports and the Loney Bowl is a national quarterfinal game. However, Brown said cancelling the Loney Bowl is outside U Sports’ jurisdiction, so it’s an AUS decision.

Complaints filed

The U Sports eligibility policy states a football player is prohibited from U Sports competition for one year, if they’re affiliated with a professional team in any way “that directly or indirectly confers a monetary benefit to the athlete after August 15.”

Jack was cut from the Saskatchewan Roughriders practice squad on Oct. 11, 2016. He has been playing with SMU since the start of the 2017 season, which began in August.

Brown said U Sports received an anonymous complaint about Jack on Oct. 23, 2017. Over the next couple of days, U Sports made SMU aware of the allegations and the school’s legal department responded.

Brown said given the limited information U Sports had at that time, it just wasn’t prepared to do an investigation.

“What (U Sports) did, at that particular time, was simply choose not to pursue it as U Sports,” he said.

However, four AUS football teams made a formal complaint on Nov. 3, forcing an investigation.

Saturday’s hearing revealed it was Pierre Arsenault, Mount Allison University’s athletic director, who made the complaint on behalf of the other AUS schools.

Representatives from Acadia University were also in court Saturday.

Bowl games

While the scheduling of the Loney Bowl is being decided in court, other national quarterfinal games are being played across the country.

The national semifinals are slated for next weekend, and the national championship game is the weekend after that. If there isn’t a ruling on the Loney Bowl soon, then the schedule for the rest of the playoffs may need to be altered.

The AUS winner is scheduled to face the Western University Mustangs, the Ontario University Athletics champions, in the Uteck Bowl on Nov. 18.

Court will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

With files from Tunde Balogun

 

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