WOLFVILLE, N.S. — Atlantic University Sport cancelled the Loney Bowl on Thursday due to a player eligibility issue and awarded the football conference championship to the Acadia Axemen.
Acadia was scheduled to host the Saint Mary’s Huskies on Saturday at Raymond Field in Wolfville, N.S. However, the AUS — the governing body for university athletics in Atlantic Canada — said the eligibility 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."
In a release, the organization expressed confidence the matter will ultimately reach a conclusion that is fair to all parties, but "time does not permit for a fair resolution to be reached prior to the playing of this game."
"We are disappointed a final resolution to this situation could not be reached in time," said AUS executive director Phil Currie. "Cancelling the AUS Loney Bowl is unfortunately the only avenue we feel we can take as a conference at this time. However, we believe this decision protects the integrity and fairness of the 2017 AUS football season."
The release did not name the player in question or provide details on specifics of the eligibility issue. A spokesman for U Sports, the national brand for Canadian university sport, declined comment.
As the first-place finisher from the regular season, the Axemen will represent the conference in the Nov. 18 Uteck Bowl against the Ontario champion. The winner of that game will advance to the Vanier Cup on Nov. 25 at Hamilton.
Margaret Murphy, associate vice-president of external affairs at Saint Mary’s, issued a statement late Thursday afternoon.
"Saint Mary’s University has been diligent in its responses and interactions with U Sports and has acted with integrity throughout this process," she said. "Saint Mary’s takes the recent action of the AUS very seriously and the university is considering its options. This matter raises important concerns around the application of policies within the AUS.
"It is very unfortunate that the AUS is taking such unilateral action against one of its own members, without affording them due process, and in so doing is attempting to undercut a pending decision by the Ontario Superior Court. The university maintains its position that there is no eligibility issue and strongly disagrees with the AUS’s decision to forgo the championship game and appoint an AUS conference champion."
In its release, the AUS said it was incumbent "to act in a manner which reflects the spirit of the rules and is focused on principled behaviour."
The conference title is the first for Acadia since 2012. The Axemen will next play the winner of Saturday’s Yates Cup between the Western Mustangs and Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
"As the intended hosts of the 2017 AUS football championship game, we are disappointed by the events which have transpired that have led to the cancellation of the championship game," Acadia Athletics executive director Kevin Dickie said in a statement. "The circumstances are unfortunate, but we respect the decision taken by Atlantic University Sport.
"Make no mistake, for many reasons Acadia is disappointed that it will not be hosting the Loney Bowl on our campus, as this upcoming Saturday was to be very special for our community."
Acadia (6-2) holds the No. 7 position in the latest U Sports national football rankings, one spot higher than the 6-3 Huskies.
Saint Mary’s advanced to the conference final last week with a 16-15 win over St. Francis Xavier X-Men. The Axemen had a bye.
"Our entire team was looking forward to playing in this weekend’s championship game," said Axemen head coach Jeff Cummins. "We have had a long layoff and were ready for Saturday, but now we have to turn our attention to getting ready for the Uteck Bowl.
"These championship games are a once in a lifetime experience for many players and I don’t think we could be more excited to be playing at home in front of our tremendous fans and in this community. Laurier and Western are two great football teams, so now our priority will be to get prepared to play."
In Canada West, British Columbia will visit Calgary in the Hardy Cup on Saturday. In the Quebec conference, Laval will host Montreal in the Dunsmore Cup.
The Canada West champion will host the Dunsmore Cup champion on Nov. 18 in the Mitchell Bowl.