There will be no Atlantic University Sport (AUS) football championship game this year in light of an investigation into the eligibility of a Saint Mary's University player, but the Acadia Axemen will represent the conference in the national semifinals.
The conference final was supposed to be played Saturday in Wolfville, N.S., between Saint Mary's and Acadia.
U Sports, the national governing body of university sport in Canada, informed AUS officials on Friday of its investigation into Saint Mary's wide receiver Archelaus Jack. U Sports has authority over player eligibility matters.
The issue relates to the CFL rule, which dictates that any former CFL player, or a player who remains on a CFL team's practise roster after Aug. 15, has to wait one year before playing for a Canadian university team.
On Oct. 11, 2016, the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders released Jack from their practise squad. Jack has played in every Saint Mary's game this season. Prior to Oct. 11, 2017, he played in five games for the Huskies this season.
"This issue has resulted in ongoing controversy and discord in reference to which team has earned its rightful place as a participant in the AUS football championship final game," said AUS executive director Phil Currie in a statement released Thursday.
SMU says there's no eligibility issue
SMU said it disagrees with the AUS decision.
Margaret Murphy, the university's associate vice-president of external affairs, said the university reached a written and binding agreement with U Sports on Oct. 27 that said there weren't any player eligibility issues.
She said that earlier this week, the university filed court documents with the Ontario Superior Court to have that agreement enforced.
"AUS is attempting to get out in front of that process, effectively to undercut it, and Saint Mary's University takes that matter very seriously," said Murphy.
Why AUS got involved
In an interview with CBC News, Currie said it wasn't clear when the court would be making a decision, so it needed to step in.
"We can't go into a championship with all this uncertainty," he said.
Currie said the concerns surrounding Jack's eligibility are legitimate.
AUS cites league rules
The league cited s.1-6(e)(ix) of the Atlantic University Sport Operations Manual as the reason behind the decision it made.
"If no league playoffs are held in a given sport, the winner of the AUS regular season league schedule will represent the conference at the U Sports championship," it says.
Acadia will host the Ontario University Athletics conference champion on Nov. 18 in the Uteck Bowl, the national semifinals game for eastern Canada. AUS said no previous AUS final has ever been cancelled because of a player eligibility issue.
'We'll move on,' says St. FX official
The first playoff game was held last weekend between SMU and St. Francis Xavier University, with the Huskies winning 16-15. Jack, who led the AUS in receptions in the regular season, scored a key fourth-quarter touchdown.
Leo MacPherson, the director of athletics and recreation at St. FX, hoped the AUS decision would result in the X-Men playing the Axemen. He said the team continued to practise, just in case.
"Integrity is core to our values and non-negotiable, so for that matter, I respect the AUS decision because it's based on integrity," he said.
MacPherson, who also serves as the president of AUS, said he was disappointed at how long the controversy played out.