SMU receiver Archelaus Jack is at the center of a Canadian eligibility controversy.

Eligibility issues in college sports arise all the time, and in the NCAA, they often lead to retroactive punishments like vacated games and championships in both college football and basketball. It’s far more rare to have a crucial playoff game cancelled in advance thanks to an eligibility issue, but that’s what’s happened in Canadian university football, with conference Atlantic University Sport cancelling its Loney Bowl championship thanks to an ongoing legal dispute between national governing body U SPORTS and Saint Mary’s University (yes, they’re known as SMU, which makes this even weirder), which appears to be about the eligibility of Huskies’ receiver Archelaus Jack.

Krown Countdown U (a national TV show on U SPORTS football) host Jim Mullin tweeted earlier this week that the Jack situation had gone “thermonuclear legal”:

Jack, the conference leader in receptions and receiving yards, was on the practice roster of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders until Oct. 11 last year, and there’s reportedly a U SPORTS rule that players can’t return to university competition unless they’re off a CFL practice roster by August 15. Otherwise, they have to wait a full 365 days. (However, the university is arguing that this applies from one school year to the next, not 365 days.) Thus, the games Jack played in before this Oct. 11 may be forfeited.

The conference has declared the Acadia Axemen the conference champions thanks to their regular-season record and let them move on to the interconference Uteck Bowl next week, with the winner of that moving on to play for the Vanier Cup, the national championship. As Global News’ Alexander Quon writes, this is the first time AUS has ever cancelled a conference final:

It’s an unprecedented move from AUS as they’ve never had to cancel a final over an eligibility issue.

“There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty right now around where we are at with the eligibility issue,” said Phil Currie, AUS executive director, in an interview on Thursday. “We felt with all that uncertainty it’s probably not an appropriate reason to go forward.”

…“We’ve had the option for a while, but we felt that it was important for us to make the decision now,” Currie said, explaining that Acadia is now free to prepare for the upcoming Uteck Bowl.

However, SMU is fighting this in the Ontario courts (where the U SPORTS national offices are based), and they seem to have had some success Friday:

Brown and fellow CTV reporter Heather Butts have more details on the U SPORTS national response and SMU’s response:

“The AUS made the decision it​ believes​ to be the best to protect the integrity and fairness of its​ football season,” said Graham Brown, president and CEO of U Sports.

“U Sports respects this decision and understands it​. We also wish to acknowledge all of the players, coaches and programs that competed fairly all season long. To those competitors who played fairly, and the universities and fans who support them, we know this is an unfortunate ending.”

…In a statement, Saint Mary’s University said, “It is very unfortunate that the AUS is taking such 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.”

Meanwhile, U Sports’ CEO Graham Brown has said that the decision on the game is up to AUS:

According to Laura Brown’s tweets, an eligibility issue was first brought to U SPORTS on Oct. 23, U SPORTS decided not to pursue it on Oct. 30, another member later complained on Nov. 2, and the sides have now wound up in court.

This is far from the first time there’s been a big Canadian university sports eligibility controversy, or something that alters the picture in the middle of the year. In fact, earlier this year, self-disclosure of an ineligible player caused the Ryerson Rams men’s soccer team to forfeit six games, and that led to them finishing third in their division and having a harder playoff path (they still wound up third in their conference, but that wasn’t enough to make it to nationals).

But having a conference championship completely canceled over an eligibility controversy is a new one, as is a massive legal battle between a school, a conference and the national association. Those stakes seem much higher than after-the-fact vacated wins, and it will be fascinating to see how this one ends.

[CTV Atlantic]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.