Nova Scotia

Halifax university spends $447K on legal fight over one football player

Saint Mary's University has spent almost $450,000 on legal fees since last fall in an attempt to prove a football player was eligible to suit up for the team last season — and the bill is growing.

Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis says he's 'more than comfortable' with the expense

The eligibility controversy involved Archelaus Jack, who played wide receiver for the Saint Mary's Huskies last season. (Ted Pritchard/The Canadian Press)

Saint Mary's University has spent almost $450,000 on legal fees since last fall in an attempt to prove a football player was eligible to suit up for the team last season — and the bill is growing.

Last fall, the eligibility of wide receiver Archelaus Jack was called into question because of time he previously spent as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders' practice roster in 2016.

The legal battle played out in courts in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and included a Remembrance Day hearing in Nova Scotia Supreme Court over whether the Loney Bowl championship game would go ahead.

How the legal fees break down

To date, the fees total $447,342.51, of which $252,276.95 comes from McInnes Cooper in Nova Scotia, while the remaining $195,065.56 was for work the legal firm Blakes did in Ontario.

The information provided to CBC News shows the amounts paid for legal services, but doesn't provide details about the services rendered.

Phil Currie, the executive director of Atlantic University Sport, says his organization is still embroiled in a legal dispute with Saint Mary's University. (CBC)

The university declined an on-camera interview with CBC News, but issued a statement:

"When we made the decision to defend our student-athletes and the University, we understood there would be expenses associated with upholding the agreement and protecting our students, and we accept those costs," said Margaret Murphy, the university's associate vice-president of external affairs.

She said the university was forced to take legal action because U Sports, the national governing body of university sport in Canada, had breached an agreement, which she said was made in good faith and was legally binding.

Advanced Education Minister Labi Kousoulis says he's confident the almost $450,000 spent on legal fees is money well spent. (CBC)

According to the university's 2017-18 financial statements, the university received $36.25 million in funding from the province for that fiscal year.

Labi Kousoulis, the minister responsible for the department that oversees advanced education, said universities are private institutions and it's up to them to decide how they spend their money, but he's confident the legal expenses were money well spent.

Province is OK with SMU's spending

"I have complete trust in their board, complete trust in their president. Any investments they're making, I'm more than comfortable and satisfied with them," he said.

The almost $450,000 in legal fees is the equivalent to tuition and fees for one year at Saint Mary's for 50 full-time arts students, or about 45 commerce students.

The Saint Mary's University Students' Association declined comment.

The question of Jack's eligibility resulted in Atlantic University Sport (AUS), the governing body of university sport in Atlantic Canada, cancelling a playoff game between Saint Mary's and Acadia University. A judge later ruled the game go ahead. The Huskies lost 45-38 in overtime.

In a statement, Saint Mary's University said it was forced to take legal action because the national governing body of university sport breached an agreement between the two parties. (CBC)

Whether Jack was considered eligible by the tribunal will never be known, said Phil Currie, AUS's executive director. He said Saint Mary's and U Sports reached a deal to not release the findings of the player eligibility tribunal in Jack's case.

Currie said AUS is still in litigation with Saint Mary's over whether AUS's decision to cancel the game was appropriate, which means legal bills will continue to mount for the university.

A dispute over what 1 year means

The dispute centred on the language involving how long former CFL players must wait to play at the university level.

Saint Mary's interpreted the one-year wait time as being for one academic year, not a calendar year.

Fans at a Nov. 14, 2017, game in Wolfville, N.S., hold up a sign targeting Archelaus Jack. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

Currie said U Sports is updating the language surrounding player eligibility to make sure there's no confusion about its interpretation.

"Twenty-five of the 26 football schools have operated the same way forever and under the same rules as any other member in Canada, but if there is or was ambiguity, that's being fixed," he said.