By ROBERT MACLEOD
Saturday, November 11, 2017
TORONTO -- After a day of legal skirmishes that unfolded in courtrooms in both Ontario and Nova Scotia, a decision on whether the Loney Bowl will be played this season remains in limbo.
About the only thing that is certain in this complicated and likely unprecedented affair is that the Atlantic university football championship will not be contested on Saturday, as originally scheduled.
The Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax adjourned a hearing into the matter on Friday night and asked lawyers to reconvene on Saturday for further debate.
In a move on Thursday that stunned the Canadian university sports landscape, the championship game that was to be played between Saint Mary's and Acadia on the Acadia campus in Wolfville, N.S., was abruptly cancelled by Atlantic University Sport (AUS) over an unresolved eligibility issue involving Saint Mary's.
Instead, the AUS awarded the league title to Acadia outright.
AUS executive director Phil Currie said on Friday he could not comment on the latest developments as the matter was before the courts.
On Thursday, when the AUS made its decision to cancel the game, Currie told the Halifax Chronicle Herald that it was the only move it could make to maintain the integrity of the association, given St. Mary's eligibility issue.
The stakes are high, as the Loney Bowl was to be one of four conference championships across Canada this weekend in U Sports, leading up to the Vanier Cup national championship, in Hamilton on Nov. 25.
If the Nova Scotia court upholds the AUS decision, Acadia will be awarded a berth in next weekend's national semi-final bowl game against either the Western Mustangs or the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, who vie for the Ontario title on Saturday.
While the cancellation of the AUS championship has the tacit support of U Sports, the governing body of university sports in Canada, Saint Mary's is insisting that AUS acted "arbitrarily" and "rather unilaterally" in calling off the game. This prompted the Halifax institution to mount a legal challenge in Nova Scotia to get the ruling overturned so the game can be played.
"Really the way to decide these issues is on the playing field," Margaret Murphy, associate vice-president of external affairs for Saint Mary's, said in an interview. "And so there's certainly an opportunity this weekend to continue with the Loney Bowl.
"Our position is clear. Our team is ready, our coach is ready. Any other team in the conference would feel the same way. They would be practising, they would be ready as well."
Saint Mary's has not given up hope of a favourable court decision, which would allow the game to be played, although not on Saturday.
"There's plenty of time to play the game on the weekend, as we've said," Murphy said. "And for the university, that weekend extends into Monday. In fact, the signals and momentum of today, certainly out of the Ontario court system, would be in our favour."
On Friday morning in Toronto, the situation grew more muddled after Justice Todd Archibald of the Ontario Superior Court granted Saint Mary's a temporary injunction in its legal challenge against U Sports involving the player-eligibility issue raised against the school. The matter is to be back before the Ontario Superior Court next week. That case is being heard in Ontario because that is where U Sports is based.
Saint Mary's believes Archibald's decision supports the university's contention that it had an agreement in place with U Sports, both verbal and in writing, that the eligibility issue was a non-starter.
U Sports chief executive officer Graham Brown said he respected the AUS's decision to cancel the league's championship game. "The AUS made the decision it believes to be the best to protect the integrity and fairness of its football season," Brown said in a statement.
And he also had some harsh words for Saint Mary's for rushing into a legal challenge that he believes could have been handled inhouse much more expediently.
"If they think their player is eligible why not let our own panel hear it," Brown said in an interview.
Brown noted that the Saint Mary's football team has already been sanctioned once this season for using an ineligible player and that the program was fined and put on 18 months probation. U Sports also stripped the team of one regularseason win and one preseason win.
"This is serious stuff," Brown said.
"This is their [alleged] second violation in six weeks. Their football program could be suspended for multiple years. That's why I think they're fighting it so hard."