York women’s volleyball disqualified, OUA Final Four moved over ineligible player

Remember the NHL's "History Will Be Made" ads? Well, if you're really a fan of watching history made, try following Canadian university sports, where it seems to be continually rewritten on the fly. The latest example is a late-breaking disqualification of the York Lions' women's volleyball team, the top-seeded Ontario University Athletics team which was all set to host that conference's Final Four tournament in Toronto this weekend. As of Thursday afternoon, York is out, the Royal Military College (which the Lions beat three sets to none in their #1 versus #8 quarterfinal Saturday) Paladins are in, and the whole tournament's been moved to Ottawa, but the decision is apparently pending appeal, so everything could yet change. It's a bizarre turn of events, it's one of the worst eligibility sagas in CIS play, and it makes everyone involved look bad.

The reason for the disqualification is quite unusual, but it's not as silly as some of these moves have been. Unlike last fall's disqualification of the UBC football team that rewrote their season after the fact because of a mistake that happened several years ago, this actually was about a mistake made this year. According to David Larkins of The Winnipeg Sun, this happened because York used an ineligible player in a playoff game against RMC. The player is junior middle hitter Michelle Pierce, who transferred from Windsor. Transfer rules typically mandate that players must sit out a calendar year, or 365 days from the last game they played for their former school, and Pierce did that before suiting up against the Paladins. However, she broke another rule in the process, one that states that players must have played in a regular-season game to be eligible for the playoffs. That rule would seem to make the one-year period applicable across teams, so that players wouldn't be able to just go from playing for non-playoff teams to joining another team and competing in the playoffs with them the next year. It's not inherently a bad rule; it's just one where its application in this particular circumstance has screwed everything up.

It's tough to apportion responsibility here from the outside, but from what's come out, York has to bear most of the blame for this fiasco. Coaches have to be absolutely clear on the transfer regulations and eligibility issues, and their athletic departments have to oversee that to make sure this doesn't happen. In a complicated case like this, they should be 100 per cent sure if they can play someone or not. As Larkins points out, playing Pierce at all this year hurts her from a future eligibility standpoint, so suiting her up for the playoffs is a bizarre move, especially if her eligibility wasn't a sure thing.

Forfeiting a game, a playoff run and the chance to host a tournament is a steep penalty, but it's one in accordance with the rules, and it's tough to figure out a better one. We can't particularly isolate just how much of an impact Pierce had on that game: she did have nine kills and a team-high 12 points, but given York's 25-13, 25-21, 25-16 victory, they probably would have been fine without her. Debating that leads down a murky, complicated path though, and it's a can of worms that's probably best not opened. The current idea that an ineligible player results in a forfeited game isn't ideal, but it's perhaps the best that can be done.

If CIS is determined to maintain and enforce such stiff eligibility penalties, though, the organization (and its member federations, like OUA) have to make it absolutely clear what the rules are and how they are to be followed. We're talking written in 30-foot-high letters of fire here. These sorts of situations significantly damage the credibility of Canadian university sports, and CIS can't afford to have them keep happening. Agree on the rules, get them to the coaches and ensure that they're being followed. This continual rewriting of history looks ridiculous, particularly in the middle of the playoffs, and everyone involved has to take some of the blame. More importantly, all groups need to work together to stop this from happening in the future.