The fate of a Canadian university football playoff game is scheduled for a court hearing Saturday as lawyers from Saint Mary’s University attempt a legal bid to get their team back into the Loney Bowl.
As of late Friday, the head of U Sports had said there were no plans to play the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championship game in Wolfville, N.S.
A day earlier, AUS — the governing body for university athletics in Atlantic Canada — cancelled the matchup between Acadia and Saint Mary’s due to a player eligibility issue and awarded the regional title to the Axemen.
"The AUS made the decision it believes to be the best to protect the integrity and fairness of its football season," U Sports president and CEO Graham Brown said Friday in a statement.
However, on Friday night, associate chief justice Deborah Smith of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court agreed to schedule a hearing on the matter in Halifax.
She said in a court teleconference call that she’ll hear arguments on whether the matter has to be settled urgently, and also on Saint Mary’s motion to have the game reinstated.
Court heard that the player at the centre of the bid is Archelaus Jack, a wide receiver with Saint Mary’s University.
The receiver hauled in a 22-yard pass from quarterback Kaleb Scott in the final game that qualified the team for the match against Acadia.
In its notice of motion brought before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the lawyers argued that U Sports — which oversees Canadian university sport — had determined the men’s football eligibility policies in questions "were ambiguous."
The university will file a fresh set of arguments and motions on Saturday afternoon, meaning the game originally scheduled for then is unlikely to occur.
During the conference call, Saint Mary’s University lawyer Robert Belliveau said the team was willing to play the game later on the weekend or even during a weekday.
The Axemen were scheduled to host the Huskies on Saturday at Raymond Field. The AUS declared that Acadia, as the first-place team during the regular season, will represent the Atlantic conference in the Nov. 18 Uteck Bowl.
Brown had said Friday that U Sports, "had been unable to move forward with our internal processes to determine the eligibility of the player in question because Saint Mary’s have in fact proceeded with legal action, which have taken away that ability to assess the eligibility.
"The whole crux of this is that we are unable to govern this situation because the courts have supported an injunction on this particular matter."
Voicemail requests for phone interviews with officials from Saint Mary’s and the AUS were not immediately returned. However, Margaret Murphy, SMU’s associate vice-president of external affairs, issued a statement Friday morning.
"The Hon. Justice Todd L. Archibald of the Ontario Superior Court has released his decision and granted Saint Mary’s interlocutory motion against U Sports," Murphy said. "It is our position that the Loney Bowl should be played this weekend to decide the AUS conference champion properly, through a game of football."
Reached on the phone later in the day, Murphy said the Saint Mary’s practised late Friday afternoon and were still preparing to play.
"We’re pursuing every avenue we can, including the courts, to make sure that happens," Murphy said.
In an email, AUS executive director Phil Currie declined comment on Friday’s developments "due to legal processes taking place."
U Sports is the national brand for Canadian university sport. However, Brown noted that AUS has jurisdiction on its championship game.
"Once this was taken outside of the governance structure of U Sports and into the hands of the courts, you are at the will of the courts," Brown said. "I will add the courts have been extremely cognizant of the timeframes."
The AUS decision left just three regional championship games on tap Saturday. The Axemen will play the winner of the Yates Cup between the host Western Mustangs and Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
In Canada West, British Columbia will visit Calgary in the Hardy Cup. 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. The national title game — the Vanier Cup — will be played Nov. 25 in Hamilton.