17.jpg
Alex Taylor stretches out for some of his game-high 150 rushing yards. (Charity Matheson, U SPORTS)

Hurt into hunger. When the Western Mustangs contrived to hand over the Yates Cup last season, of course it was a deep cut there is nothing quite so jarring as a season that ends with a shock defeat, the other guys dog-piling on to each other, and a sudden unexpected slew of time to study for Christmas exams.

It was a double whammy for the Quebecers on the Mustangs such as linebackers Jean-Gabriel Poulin and Philippe Dion, since a win would have set up a chance to play against Laval in the national semifinal and verify the wisdom of casting their lot with Western, over in Ontario. They, and all the purple ponies, proved their point over and over on Saturday, dominating Laval in all three phases during a 39-17 win in the Vanier Cup at Tim Hortons Field.

"This all started on November 12, 2016 when we lost to Laurier," said Poulin, who was Western's second-leading tackler with seven stops. "We all looked each other in the eyes and that's when we said, 'never again; never again.' That was our saying all season.

"This means the world to all of us," added Poulin, who's from St-Nicholas, Que. "It's been four years in the making. We put 1,000 hours every year. There's no team in Canada that out-prepares us or out-works us. This means the world to everyone, not just the Quebec guys. We have guys from B.C. down to Quebec on our team who came here wanting to do this. We showed that football is strong all over Canada."

So in one sense the seeds for this triumph were sown 12 months ago. In another, it started once the mighty Mustangs, who are at the summit of Canadian university football for the first time since 1994, started recruiting in La Belle Province.  



Laval QB Hugo Richard.

The greatest concern troll ever invented is projecting a "mental out" on to the teams in a championship showdown.

Deep down, or so the you-totally-are-parodying-Bill-Simmons-here-are-you-not notion holds, one team or athlete is already bargaining internally about being able to settle for second-best. As an over- simplification, it probably is great for resisting paralysis-by-analysis. The Dodgers were going to beat the Cubs in the National League playoffs since the Cubs were satisfied by getting their World Series championship in 2016. The Ottawa Redblacks and Henry Burris were impelled to win the 2016 Grey Cup due to an understanding it was their last chance, while the Calgary Stampeders side they supposedly upset were just obsessed with playing a perfect game.

Western and Laval is another matchup of usual suspects, although it is only the third time they have played in November and only the fourth time coaches Greg Marshall and Glen Constantin have matched brain trusts and behemoths. There is no mental out on either side. Western has not won the Vanier Cup in 23 years, and an entire conference that has spent the last decade increasingly being sluiced through the Mustang machinery is most vituperative on the subject of this drought: Where's the Vanier Cup? When are you going to get the Vanier Cup? Why aren't you getting the Vanier Cup now?" And so on. So, please, da Vanier Cup.

Three days to heal up to play a very physical, much more rested Western Mustangs team reeks of a ritual sacrifice, but that's not for a court to decide.

Justice Deborah Smith has granted an interim injunction to Saint Mary's, which will compel Atlantic University Sport to hold the Loney Bowl between Acadia and SMU by no later than Tuesday. Justice Smith, who took just more than 10 minutes to outline her decision after considering two days of arguments from lawyers for Acadia, SMU and AUS, seemed to centre the decision on whether AUS followed its bylaws. Toward the end of Sunday's proceedings, Smith asked the counsel for AUS if its bylaws contained a provision for creating the executive committee which was responsible for cancelling the game last Thursday (right as Saint Mary's was seeing its first injunction in Ontario Superior Court against U Sports). The response of "it's not anywhere," amounted to a tacit admission that the conference overstepped its bounds.

This will be back in court soon enough, but it the game will be played.

The devil is in the details; but sometimes it's in the practical reality that is outside the purview of the court. The ruling puts the winning team in a scenario of playing twice in five days since the Uteck Bowl against Western is scheduled for Saturday. That's an unfair strain on NFL players, just ask Richard Sherman, never mind student-athletes. The ideal recovery period after a football game is six or seven days. Now it's been pared to three. It is still outside of a 72-hour rule that Football Canada has on the books (i.e., no team can play twice within 72 hours), but it cuts it awfully close.

That's the real scandal. The blame for that falls squarely on AUS and U Sports for the heavy-handed extralegal scramble drill that was conducted last Thursday after Saint Mary's began seeking its injunction in Ontario (read through the Twitter timelines of the on-the-ground reporters quoted below for background).

Any decision on Archelaus Jack never should have been left that late, and those who contend he was ineligible should be the most irate of all, since such an apparent walk-in touchdown turned into slipping, falling and fumbling the ball directly to the other team. It's as if the national body has too many marketing minds and not enough people working on rule enforcement. Or something.

The Football Underground featuring Niko DiFonte gave us some drama, and it is an enduring shame that it was so hard for most of the country to view live.

Calgary and Laval will meet in November for the sixth time in the last 10 years, but it almost unraveled spectacularly for each juggernaut. The Dinos gave up the lead to Michael O'Connor and UBC with only 16 seconds left on the clock in the Hardy Cup. But they got in range to give DiFonte a shot from 59 yards away and he made it for a 44-43 win, a Hardy Cup for the Dinos, and a Canadian university football record for the longest field goal.



It made the Sportscenter Top 10 ... the American one.
 
O'Connor, helped by Ben Cummings doing some crucial scampering in the rushing phase, merely took UBC 92 yards across 12 plays for a go-ahead TD. That should have done it, but Canadian football has no end to unintended consequences; UBC's deep kickoff carried into the end zone for a single, so Calgary got the ball on its 35 with a slew of time to run two plays. Moments later, elation and dejection.

DiFonte erased a mark set by a Saint Mary's player in a week when powers-that-be were trying to erase Saint Mary's current season.

The former mark of 57 yards had belonged to Saint Mary's Jerry Foster since 1986.

The 59-yarder was also a longer field goal in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season.

Elsewhere:

Laval 25, Montréal 22. The Rouge et Or are heading out west to continue their Vanier conquest; they quelled a Carabins comeback in the final 90 seconds after being up two scores for most of the way. Their defence won the day with five sacks and two big takeaways. Hugo Richard and the offence were balanced (181 rushing, 204 passing) and that provided enough to win.

Western 75, Laurier 32.  Now did someone stop Western's Cedric Joseph to stop running before he made the border crossing? His passport is still sitting on the table.

Western is once again prompting observers to ponder whether it is this good or the rest of OUA has just had a massive drop-off, setting a Yates Cup record for most points (75) and total points (107).

I ball-parked the Laurier-Western line at 21 to 24 points, and suffice to say, even that undersold it. Don't make that face. You knew this could happen. Someone looked up the record for points in a Yates Cup to warn you.  That result advances the Mustangs to their first national semifinal in the Maritimes since 1995, although that's the only sure thing about it at this writing.

The Mustangs have scored 66 and 75 points in their playoff games.

And, of course, another title is being decided on the field and in a Halifax courthouse. Saint Mary's gets anoth day in cou





Notes on all that below.
Due to exceptional circumstances, this week we'll publish one-by-one.
  1. Acadia wins Loney Bowl by default; or, drop-kick that last shred of credibility through the goalposts of life. People putting the game last has led to the last game of the season being cancelled, make no mistake.

    Atlantic University Sport, in it infinite wisdom, has decided the best remedy for a bad situation is to cancel the Loney Bowl and declare the Acadia Axemen the conference champion. Taken on face, it makes no sense. The only bit of adult perspective one can scrounge is that the regional association made a power play against U Sports, and Saint Mary's, but particularly U Sports for letting this drag out for so long. Drag your feet on an eligibility issue and cast a shadow over our big event? Bring lawyers in? We'll show you, even if it means cutting off our nose to spite our face.
    It manages to be bold and craven all at the same time. To a certain way of thinking it seems audacious to shut down a championship game, but on the other hand, it also betrays a deathly fear that a little controversy might actually draw more eyeballs to an athletic contest.

    That has prompted Saint Mary's to bring out the hole card it's had up its sleeve the entire time: "SMU signed a binding, written agreement with U SPORTS on Oct. 27, which 'cleared all players to play.' " (Laura Brown, CTV.)

    No one wins with this decision by AUS. All four teams are hurt in some way. Fans are also screwed over by this; they just wanted to watch a good football game. Seriously. This should have had a pin stuck in it until the off-season, when it could be fully investigated and then a decision could be made on whether there was professional misconduct.

    As unfair it was to Acadia to go all week without certainty of what opponent it was getting on Saturday, the decision essentially says:

    a) Saint Mary's is guilty even though there has been no formal ruling that wide receiver Archelaus Jack is ineligible, and Saint Mary's claims it is has a ruling to the contrary (and, again, would not have continued to let Jack play if it didn't think it was OK);
    b) St. Francis Xavier is vindicated but gets no reparations, in the form of a berth in the championship game.

    I hate to throw around 10-dollar words; right now I'm eschewing it because I cannot pick just one. This is far from over when it never should have been allowed to reach this point.


    The AUS had the nerve to say "time does not permit for a fair resolution to be reached prior to the playing of this game." (Emphasis mine.) They used the word "fair" while making a decision that denied two teams, one of whom, St. Francis Xavier, has followed the rules. Please explain how that makes sense.

#ChampSZN now includes lawyerball.

Saint Mary's defeated St. Francis Xavier in the AUS football semifinal on Saturday. That should be that .sThe statute of limitations on eligibility questions, in any sane universe, should be up well before the start of the playoffs. If no one called a team on it after the first couple games, well, too bad. Yet here we are, since a mountain has been made out of a situation that Saint Mary's surely was aware of since the day the player in question, believed to be wide receiver and former Saskatchewan Roughriders practice squadder Archelaus Jack, took his talents to the south end of Halifax.

From Jim Mullin:
Does anyone really believe there is the will to overturn a playoff game and send St. Francis Xavier to the Loney Bowl against Acadia, thus erasing the game that was played?

Anyone with a passing familiarity with university football knows about the Aug. 15 cut-off date for players on practice squads. By rule, an athlete who played university ball the season prior must be released in order to be eligible to play the upcoming season.

Peak U Sports: a team playing with a receiver whose eligibility was openly questioned in the media wins a playoff game on a missed field-goal single in the last minute.

No, that's not a crisis of an organization's own making at all. Saint Mary's gritted out a 16-15 AUS semifinal win against St. Francis Xavier. While they pulled it out at the eleventh hour, somehow, in the 11th week of a 14-week season, whether receiver Archelaus Jack should have been playing games in September became A Thing.

Logically, Saint Mary's would not have gone ahead and played Jack if it did not believe the issue had been cleared and wasn't going to be a problem. The wide receiver had a game-high 72 yards, including the only touchdown of the game by either side, one day after CTV Atlantic got confirmation that Jack was on the Saskatchewan Roughriders practice roster as late as the second week of October 2016. There is supposed to be 365-day sit-out rule for any player who was on a CFL "taxi squad" after August. 15.

The fact that no one at the highest pay grade where the buck stops noticed a potential issue should be the real within-the-context-of-sports outrage. Either it's checked out by the end of August or it isn't. If it takes until Nov. 3 for a gatekeeper to, guh, "(start) its investigation Friday and is (strike) a committee to look into the allegation," then that's a broader problem. Hire an auditor to look after football eligibilty and do nothing else, please!

Anyway, semifinal — is there any word more thrilling to the human soul! It holds the promise of playing a trophy game the following week and the sheer horror of having a winter of our discontent descend far too soon. Even if one's team was stood to get stomped real good in the conference final, at least you had that extra week of football, eh?

Three of four conference finals will be rematches, including Montréal-Laval for the fifth consecutive season and UBC-Calgary for the third in succession. The Laurier-Western matchup is the first rematch Yates Cup since 2004.

#NotStickingToSports ... but you came here for the university sports, so the sports gets higher billing in the program. Happy Indictment Week, y'alls.

  1. Ravens, Ravens go away? Not any time soon. Fifteen years and 13 championships ago, Carleton was an entry point to care about Canadian university basketball.

    Now its unshakable hoops hegemony is a turn-off. It's not them, it's more me and the tendency to get bored if one knows the ending in advance. Ultimately, it stems from a frustration that university basketball could and should have a much larger platform. It's a great Canadian achievement that there are more and more teams every year that play at a D-1 low to mid-major level on a fraction of those teams' budgets. And no one, certainly not anyone making programming decisions at a major broadcast network, realizes this since all the general public sees of the game is Carleton cutting down the nets again on a Sunday afternoon in March.
    It is unhealthy, though, to resent excellence, and hating on can'tstopwon'tstop Carleton means ignoring how they set the bar from every hard-driving coach in every corner of the country, from Roy Rana at Ryerson and James Derouin at Ottawa at downtown universities in metropolitan cities to coaches at nascent programs such as Chris Cheng at Nipissing in North Bay. The players who stay home to develop continue to attain greater heights.

    The frustration is of a macro nature since 13 titles in 15 years belonging to one team amounts to having a broken game at the institutional level. It comes down to two things. One is that until such time that there are scholarships, it will still be Carleton and Ryerson (due to several factors extrinsic to actual basketball playing) atop the summit. The second is that basketball is a growth sport in Canada in both high-performance athletes and, how rare is this in 2017, spectator interest, and very little work has been done to for universities to take advantage of their unique positioning to offer live basketball.

    It's important not to have sacred cows, or pigskins. Taking the three main men's university team sports one by one:

    • Basketball: booming at all levels and virtually all parts of Canada. And relatively little competition for the live sports dollar from professional teams in the same town, unlike men's hockey. The overhead is less than the padded-up collision sports, hockey and football.
    • Football: it is worth pondering whether good money is being plunked down on a laggard horse. The cities that will host the Vanier Cup and Grey Cup, coincidentally, each had an OUA playoff game take place last weekend. McMaster in Hamilton had an announced crowd of 500 people and Ottawa drew only 976.
    • Hockey: niche appeal out the wazoo, often a better watch in person than major junior, but a very, very low ceiling as a spectator sport. There is just so much hockey in Canada. It is a valuable asset to major junior hockey due to the scholarship packages, but the unintended consequence is that the talent is unevenly spread, so who's really getting the benefit?

    There is a hard slant there, but one of those things is not like the other. It will never be too late to try to emphasize basketball at 16 to 24 schools and let the rest be in a mixed university/college league.

    In case anyone is wondering, I'm not imagining that there was a time when the Final 8 was wide-open. Eight teams combined to share the 16 men's championships between the end of Victoria's run (1980-86) and the start of the Carleton era (2003-infinity).
  2. For the lack of records. Whatever the national body for university sports calls itself, the long-running joke about CIS standing for Completely Inaccurate Statistics stands. Take last Saturday, when McMaster running back Jordan Lyons rushed for 319 yards during an OUA playoff game, but did not actually score a touchdown.

    It would have been good to have a way of verifying whether that had ever occurred with any of the other 18 players who have rambled and scrambled for 300-plus yards in a single game. But unless you have an incredible memory, it was impossible. When U-KNOW-WHO redid its website in September — after the start of the fall season, natch — it also terminated its entire archive. This, despite what was promised in the press release:
    The new website features a broad statistics platform that is both up-to-date and flexible enough to allow for technical upgrades as well as accommodate changes at the 56 schools and/or four conferences. The main challenge in the development of the new USPORTS.ca was capturing statistics from the schools and conferences from different sources while ensuring a consistent display of the data for every single sport.
    Broad statistical platform that doesn't include anything as dated as March 2017. Fixed that for ya. Throw in the seizure-inducing display when one loads the site on a desktop platform and yeah, it works out to over-promising and under-delivering. I do not have statistics to back that up. They were all on the old website.

    Having access to that is very helpful to the people who want to help raise the profile of university sports, because having the hard numbers helps illustrate the stories that put sportspeople into proper perspective. This isn't hard to grasp.
  3. Welcome to SportsLit: Brief interlude to self-promote the new SportsLit podcast that good friend Neil Acharya and I launched last week. It's a labour of love, but it's about a publishing genre near and dear to us, books on sports. Sportsnet Central anchor Ken Reid was our first guest and according to the feedback, we totally undersold having such a big get.


  4. Trying to tell us something? Words, at last check, still matter. A best practice is to give U-KNOW-WHO a pass on a small semantic faux pas and focus on the bigger problems. But Laval is a No. 1 seed in Quebec, not in the the Top 10 poll. Unless there's a Final 8 coming to football, as has been discussed.

  5. Purple Hex. Guelph with a healthy and clear-of-head James Roberts might pose a larger obstacle to Western than any potential Yates Cup or Uteck Bowl counterpart. A 2½-hour lightning delay put both teams in uncharted territory eight weeks ago when Western needed to score on Guelph late in the fourth quarter and in overtime to claim a 41-34 overtime win.

    That is not much to take to the bank, of course. And 8-0 teams never lose in the first playoff game, signed, the 1999 Mustangs, 2002 Manitoba Bisons, 2007 Ottawa Gee-Gees and 2008 Queen's Golden Gaels.

    McMaster might be too callow on offence to advance any farther. Laurier had issues with finishing drives in the regular-season game against the Mustangs. Got to play it out, though.
  6. Everyone gets the same championship. As hard as it is to believe, there are coaches who don't like the format for their sport's national championship.
    The legacy of former CEO Pierre Lafontaine, who made the push to have uniform eight-team championships in all team sports except football, just keeps on giving. And, of course, men's basketball coaches want 12 or 16 or 23 teams to get a tournament ticket. Far be it to suggest passively-aggressively to focus on competitive balance, and the formatting issues will take care of themselves.
  7. Swing with the times. The Canadian first point of reference after Game 5 of the World Series when Houston won 13-12 against Los Angeles in 10 innings was, of course, the 15-14 game that the Toronto Blue Jays won during the 1993 series.

    Similar scorelines, wild deviations in win probability, and fun to watch. No one could deny that. But they are dissimilar in one respect. The Blue Jays scored 15 runs that night without hitting a home run. They had power, leading the American League in slugging percentage on the way to being second in runs, but they weren't all-or-nothing, ranking only sixth in a 14-team league in homers.

    Only seven of the 29 runs that October night at the old Vet in south Philly came through home runs (all four by the Phillies' Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton).

    In contrast, on Sunday, more than half the runs, 14 out of 25, came through the game's seven home runs. That seems illustrative of the unintended consequences of analytics winning out; now every hitter is going up swinging hard with an elevated launch angle and the result is a sameness.

    The '93 Series was the last one played entirely in multi-purpose stadia with artificial turf, and the game of the four-division era that melded power and speed was already ebbing. Those Phillies, in fact, actually had 91 plate appearances end in one of the Three True Outcomes (home run, walk of strikeout), which tops the Dodgers' 85 and Astros' 77 through the same number of games.

    There is a place to do a nostalgia wallow, but there's only the game as it exists in the present at the end of the day. As exciting and as riveting as Game 5 was, it actually lost 2 million U.S. viewers along the way. That shows there is a balls-in-play problem, or a lack thereof.
  8. Curse of Beyoncé ... or Kardashian Curse. Either way. With tongue in cheek, the only downside of the World Series was the Red State-Blue State, Divided America angle in a contest between a Texas team and a Southern California team was barely  touched, let alone beaten into the ground.

    In actuality, that's refreshing, although it might betray our growing terror that what used to be "we're more like than we care to admit" polarization is metastisizing into a full-blown Constitutional crisis. If it takes he columnist trope of attributing characteristics of a city's populace to a team of millionaire athletes and euthanizes it like Maggie at the end of Million Dollar Baby, so be it.

    From the fatalist perspective, though, had the Astros lost is would have been directly attributable to not differentiating itself from the SoCal celebrity culture. Whilst googling “houston astros agony,” one of the first links that popped up was about the organization's swing-and-a-miss at getting singer-songwriter and Independent Woman Beyoncé to sing the U.S. Anthem or grace them with an appearance during games 3, 4 or 5. Beyoncé is from Houston, although you probably assumed she was made in a test tub in a recording studio.

    Houston threw away the narrative like Rougned Odor making a double-play relay throw to first in a playoff game. Not that they were missing elements for a lazy narrative — the owner of the NFL team said horrifyingly racist things! Yuli Gurriel made a racist gesture! But you can't out-celebrity the place where it's an industry.

    Fortunately, the Astros winning lets everyone can attach themselves to a franchise winning its first World Series, which really only happens about twice per decade. The bad with the good is that there was no justice in Gurriel winning after MLB demurred from suspending him during the Series. That is a shame.

  9. A healthy scratch, indeed. My personal fan interaction with the NHL is pretty straightforward. When it wants to be interesting again — which would involve not shorting the Canadian market by two or three teams, having a goals per game rate north of 6.5 and finishing the playoffs around May 25 — it might get more than a casual follow.

    Anyway, did everyone notice how quickly scoring, after the first few games, fell right back toward last season's floor of 5.49/game? Or how the Ottawa Senators are having swaths of empty seats since their owner, Eugene Melnyk, would rather charge $30 for parking than take a deal from the city that would give ticket-holders free transit to games at the distant suburban arena? That is some fall-of-Rome stuff, where greed supersedes the artfulness of the athleticism.
  10. Trollhouse. A favourite slice of doggerel comes via Craig Calcaterra, the NBC Sports baseball writer who somehow finds time to write on his personal blog while being a life partner who is raising children. It was not remotely related to baseball. Along an Ohio highway that Craig regularly uses, there's an abandoned house with the message "O.D.O.T. Sucks" spray-painted on it, as in the Ohio Department of Transportation. Craig found out the owner is still paying the property taxes and must return regularly to touch up the taunt with some fresh paint. All this effort, to troll bureaucracy. 
    I smile because we live in a world where powerful forces always seem to win, conformity always seems to reign and anything old, small, unique or just plain weird seems to get plowed over, literally or figuratively. (CraigCalcaterra.com)
    Old, small, unique or just plain weird ... those are also the reasons why people like the CFL and university sports. Or am I projecting?
  11. Unceded land ... about that. The real legacy of the late great Gord Downie is the challenge he made to talk-left, govern-right Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about indigenous issues during that final concert in Kingston in August 2016. That was covered well by the media after Downie's death on Oct. 17, but how many people that you Facebook-know or Twitter-know worked into their posts (me included)?

    "We're in good hands, folks, real good hands. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what's going on up there … And what's going on up there ain't good. It's maybe worse than it's ever been ... (but) we're going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help.
    Prime Minister Trudeau's got me, his work with First Nations. He's got everybody. He's going to take us where we need to go," he said. "It's going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there, but it isn't cool and everybody knows that. It's really, really bad, but we're going to figure it out, you're going to figure it out."
    It's embarrassing to realize, this deep into life, how at a loss I am for acquiring tools to make that difference. Where does one start from the vantage point of a working-class existence in a major city? 

    It is nice and all that any public event includes a mention of being on "unceded land" as a weird sort of "thanks for taking it all in stride" there-there. But how can land actually be given back ... well, apparently one schoolteacher in Ontario just decided to do it.
  12. Be it Christian, Jew or miscellaneous. If you go to Frinkiac, the search engine that contains screenshots of every episode of The Simpsons, do you know how many matches there are for atheist?

    One. One. The long-running animated series has commented on nearly every segment of society and has countless episodes that both critique and exalt religion, but in 621 episodes, atheism ("a lack of belief in Gods") has been mentioned once — and it was an episode where the plot involved Ned Flanders making religious films, in a parody of The Passion Of The Christ.

     



    Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population (according to the Pew Research Center) are religiously unaffiliated "nones," and that segment is rising
    . It's just wild it's gone unacknowledged on a series that has free reign to poke fun or probe into nearly anything.

    I am an atheist, but don't make a point of broadcasting it. It was and is a personal decision, not a decision made for other people. Perhaps it is better The Simpsons has left atheists alone, since well, atheist is like TV writer code for the coldly rational, emotionally represesed, short-tempered, too-smart-for-their-own-good person who can never be happy. The roll call for fictional atheists and agnostics — Dr. Cox in Scrubs, Emily Deschanel's character in Bones, Piper in Orange Is The New Black, the Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs characters in Community — is a misanthrope's row.

    Coldly rational? That's usually what I aim for, actually. Emotionally repressed? That is a bit harsh. Short-tempered? Now that you mention it ...
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