Nova Scotia

Saint Mary's football court case going into overtime

People awaiting the fate of the Atlantic University Sports (AUS) championship football game between St. Mary's University and Acadia University that was cancelled two days ago will have to wait one more day for an answer.

Championship game scheduled for Saturday was cancelled over player eligibility concerns

Saint Mary's University football players wait on the sidelines at a practice on Friday. (CBC)

People awaiting the fate of the Atlantic University Sports (AUS) championship football game between Saint Mary's University and Acadia University that was cancelled two days ago will have to wait one more day for an answer.

The ruling on SMU's motion to have the game reinstated, as well as whether the matter should be dealt with on an urgent basis, is still underway in Halifax.

Just after 8 p.m., Associate Chief Justice Deborah Smith said she wanted to adjourn until Sunday. She said she was getting tired and wanted to give arguments her full attention. The hearing has been going on since 3 p.m. on Saturday.

"Let's talk practicalities," Smith said.

The hearing will continue at 9:30 a.m. and Smith said her game plan is to give her decision by Sunday night.

The Huskies were scheduled to play in the Loney Bowl on Saturday, but Atlantic University Sport (AUS) cancelled the game over concerns about the eligibility of a Saint Mary's player, wide receiver Archelaus Jack.

Player eligibility rules

The controversy stems from a league participation rule that dictates 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.

Jack played in every Saint Mary's game this season. He was released from the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders practice roster on Oct. 11, 2016.

SMU said it reached an agreement on Oct. 27 with the national governing body for university sports, U Sports, after concerns arose about Jack's eligibility to play.

Officials from Saint Mary's University have been pushing for the game to take place after an Ontario judge sided with the school on Friday.

SMU players are still waiting to hear about the fate of the AUS championship game. (CBC)

The university filed court documents with the Ontario Superior Court earlier this week to have the U Sports agreement enforced, as Ontario is where U Sports is based.

According to a written decision by Ontario Superior Court Judge Todd Archibald released on Friday, U Sports agreed not to investigate the eligibility issue in exchange for SMU not pursuing legal action against it.

The decision also states that SMU said its understanding of the one-year CFL rule was that it was one academic year, not a calendar year, meaning Jack was only ineligible for the 2016-2017 school year.

Harm to university's reputation

Archibald's decision also noted that SMU is concerned about the harm this incident will cause the university's reputation, which he agreed with.

The decision also said U Sports believed that while it agreed to stop its investigation into Jack's eligibility, if another school filed a complaint, that would mean it could resume investigating.

Archibald did not find this argument persuasive. He found U Sports breached the settlement agreement it had reached with SMU.

On Friday, U Sports representatives said at a news conference that it has no authority over AUS and no say over whether the game will be played, and it was up to AUS to handle the situation.

Saturday's hearing

Saturday's court proceedings have already unveiled some new information on the case, including the fact that the complaint that led U Sports to launch an investigation after it previously committed to not launching an investigation, was made by Pierre Arsenault, athletic director at Mount Allison University, on behalf of Acadia University, St. Francis Xavier University, Bishop's University and Mount Allison.

There have been moments of tension during today's hearing, specifically when SMU lawyer Robert Belliveau cross-examined Currie, who has been the executive director of AUS for 20 years.

Currie told the court it was his understanding that if the Ontario injunction didn't go SMU's way, the team's wins that came before Oct. 11, 2017, would have been reversed as losses. He also said his decision to cancel the game usurped the Ontario judge's ruling.

Currie defended his choice, saying he had to cancel the game because player eligibility was up in the air and ensuring "a level playing field" is fundamental to AUS. He also said he didn't warn SMU on Thursday about the decision to cancel.

Players on the Saint Mary's University Huskies football team do some stretches at Friday's practice. (CBC)

Belliveau pointed out that player ineligibility was up in the air during the playoffs, yet the game between SMU and St. FX on Nov. 4 went ahead.

He then challenged Currie, suggesting that "no matter what" Archibald or Smith ruled, Currie was going to take the game away. Currie replied it was "a possibility," adding he has an obligation to protect the organization's values.

Belliveau said he wants Smith to find AUS in contempt of an Ontario court order, arguing that a Nova Scotia judge can rule AUS in contempt at a later date and the remedy is an injunction.

He went on to say that the AUS decision to cancel the game lowers Archibald's authority and that the cancellation was a waste of time for lawyers in Ontario, calling the costs "massive."

At one point during the hearing, Smith noted the football game must be an important one given all the lawyers in the room.

Belliveau said Tuesday is the deadline to play the game. A lawyer  representing Acadia University said he wants to meet in the morning because he also has arguments to make.

CBC reporter Elizabeth Chiu live tweeted from the hearing.

With files from The Canadian Press and Elizabeth Chiu