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Eligibility rules leaving mark on 2017-18 season

As any fan of varsity sports knows, it is common for a team’s entire season to hinge on a single moment or a single play. What they may be less aware of, however, is how easily their season can come undone because of seemingly innocuous mistakes outside of matches due to U Sports’ intricate eligibility rules.

This fact has become startlingly apparent after a recent string of high-profile eligibility controversies across the country. Numerous teams have forfeited games as a result, and an issue even caused the last-minute cancellation of an AUS championship match.

The first major eligibility issue to hit U Sports this season came when the Ryerson Rams men’s soccer team was forced to forfeit their first six games after it was discovered that an unnamed player failed to meet academic requirements. While it was not revealed which specific rule the athlete was in violation of, the U Sports eligibility rules state—among other provisions—that “all varsity athletes must be enrolled in at least three courses per term while remaining in good academic standing.”

In a press release after the announcement, Ryerson University attributed the breach to “an oversight in the reporting and monitoring process.”

In early November, Atlantic University Sport (AUS) was forced to cancel its conference championship football game—the Loney Bowl—because of an eligibility-related controversy involving Archelaus Jack, a wide receiver for the Saint Mary’s Huskies. The issue arose after other teams complained that Jack—who had previously been on the practice squad of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders—was in violation of a U Sports regulation which requires that athletes formerly affiliated with CFL teams must wait 365 days before competing at the university level.

The game was ultimately reinstated by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and the case has since moved to the Ontario Superior Court. Highlighting the issue’s complexity, U Sports CEO Graham Brown told Global News that they “may never know if the player was eligible or ineligible.”

The Loney Bowl controversy was followed up by a pair of incidents regarding men’s hockey teams: the Calgary Dinos forfeited six of their games this season, and the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR) Patriotes forfeited 20 games over the past two seasons. Both were the result of addressing a single ineligible player.

In both cases, the breach had severe consequences for the offending player and team—but also their entire conference.

For instance, the University of British Columbia gained a significant advantage over teams like Mount Royal University, because two of their losses happened to come against the Calgary Dinos during the six-game span, meaning the Thunderbirds were awarded with an extra two wins they would not have had otherwise.

This was seen to an even greater extent in the Ontario University Athletics conference after the forfeits by UQTR. The uneven distribution of wins awarded by the forfeits meant that Lakehead University gained an extra four points, allowing them to pass Windsor in the standings. An extra win awarded to Carleton Ravens allowed them to overtake Concordia for third place in their division as well.

As a result of the missteps from their eligibility processes, UQTR’s once promising season will now almost certainly end with them missing the playoffs—and all because a player on their fourth line had spent time playing minor junior hockey in 2016-17 before joining their team late in the season.

Photo by Nick Pearce, Atlantic University Sports.

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