Editorializing: Bar has to be set higher after Bisons boondoggle

Once was amusing, twice is sad and three times is frickin' tragic.

The catastrophe in Manitoba — the Hardy Cockup, as some wags have dubbed it — really points out how weak the enforcement of CIS rules is and how far people will go to play a sport.

This has happened three times this season (the situation in the QUFL last season was a little different). The first time, at York in September, it was caught quickly and corrected before another game was played. The system worked. Not so with Canada West. The Simon Fraser situation was dragged out for four weeks. Manitoba's situation with wide receiver Julian Hardy was still extant when the regular season ended. It affected not only the Bisons, but the four teams who ultimately are in the playoffs.

Having this happen three times in one season is not random. No one is going rogue, at least as far as we know. It's about what can happen in a vacuum on the enforcement side, which does extend to the media, present company very much included!

This might be closing the barn door after the cows got out. Canadian Interuniversity Sport needs to create its own version of the NCAA Clearinghouse. It's not a new suggestion, but it needs to be implemented like yesterday. It couldn't be that hard to have a database each school could access — and since this is an age of transparency, make it public — and determine who is eligible. Otherwise, everyone loses.

The league has been left open to ridicule, looking like it is was "doing its best Mickey Mouse impression Monday while players, coaches, administrators and fans wondered what was going on with their playoffs," as Kevin Mitchell put in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. It makes the product look bad. It also hurts the media footprint, since an ineligible-player story is easy press-release-rewrite journalism for drive-by media who otherwise ignore CIS. Most of all, there's no way to put it right for the Bisons players, as one our awesome commenters pointed out:
"I can't defend the Bison staff on this one, it is entirely their fault. But I wonder why the league did not catch this when the names were submitted to them. Do they not have a list of players that are not allowed to play for various infractions that they have imposed? Again it looks like the guys in the trench have to pay for the mistakes of the pencil pushers. The rest of the team worked hard all season to get where they were, only to have it taken away. What about the injuries, that they endured throughout the season for nothing? Who will compensate them for that? And what about the players who were in their last year, how do you give them back their last chance to play for something they beleive in?"
What is really amazing is how easy it was to suss out why Hardy was ineligible once his name was out there. It started out Oct. 15 with a cisfootball.org post. It picked up Monday with a post from a Regina fan on cisfootball.org with a 7:23 a.m. time-stamp. It seemed worth adding to that day's late night/morning roundup. Late at night, Huskies Football Outsider ID'd the player. It took a quick search on Google to find the eight-year-old press release announcing Hardy's suspension and fire up a post.

Hardy need not be demonized or scapegoated, although some will since he didn't do his homework. It's inevitable some would question his motivation for playing university football at age 30. You know what one irony is? Using his real name caught up to him. With the way it works in CIS, Hardy might have gone undetected if he had called himself something else, the way Ron Weaver did in the 1990s when, after playing four seasons as a wide receiver, he adopted the alias Ron McKelvey and played three more seasons as a defensive back before he was discovered while playing for the Texas Longhorns (Sports Illustrated, Jan. 15, 1996).

If Hardy had played as Joe Hardy or Hardy Nickerson, there would have been no Google trail, no one asking, "Hey, is that the same guy who got busted at Ottawa in 2001?" and no one would have been wiser. It still would have been cheating.

(Speaking personally, it is kind of embarrassing to have been indirectly complicit in not realizing Hardy's status. Every media person from now on going to have start poking around any time a player has a CIS or NCAA team listed as his previous club, just to find out if everything is on the level? There isn't enough time for that with the demands of the 24-hour newscycle and shrinking staff levels. Really, though, doesn't it seem amazing that no one picked up on the fact Hardy, who was a fringe player, received the death penalty eligibility-wise?)

The point is we never should have got here. Manitoba AD Coleen Dufresne, who's dedicated much of her life to university sports, should not have been in tears at a press conference, as the Winnipeg Sun story notes. Further to that, Bisons coach Brian Dobie is really overplaying the sympathy card, but he has a point that the system lets people take advantage of it, notwithstanding he was one of those people:
"Think about how awful this is for (Hardy). He served a four-year ban ... He sat back one time and teared up and said, 'Phew! I feel like I’m re-living this all over again.’ That’s not fair and that’s not right. He did nothing wrong and the system let him down."
(That obviously depends on where you stand on doping. Amazingly, it's neither here nor there in this case.)

Of course, saying someone did "nothing wrong" is not the same as saying he/she did something right. Lawyered. The lack of oversight created the conditions for this.

Meantime, as was the case for the Texas Longhorns players who played with Ron McKelvey in 1995, there's a feeling of incompleteness for the rest of the Bisons players. They were failed. The other four playoff teams got somewhat screwed, too. The Saskatchewan, Calgary and Alberta coaches had to switch to preparing for another team in the middle of the week, while Regina initially thought it the season was all over.

Point being, by next August there must be something better in place, a national registry everyone could check. Fine schools heavily if they don't go for full disclosure right from the start. Have a list recording each player's previous experience and list anyone with unresolved eligibility issues. Otherwise, the question is how long this until this happens again.

U of S Huskies to meet Regina, not Manitoba, in Canada West football playoffs (Saskatoon StarPhoenix)
Bisons lose playoff spot over player (Jim Bender, Sun Media)
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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very good editorial Neate. We were preparing a blog post on that subject in the Q and your editorial makes a very nice conclusion of it...

    Obviously we'll link it.

  3. Sager this was posted on Oct 15th in the "SFU decision... tick tock...." thread. Funny thing is Mr. Hardy was removed for the Oct 17th game. It seems to me that .org is a better site for eligibility info than a CIS team.


  4. Nice work. The entire season has been nothing short of a farce when it comes to this sort of thing. I have talked to a number of athletes over the course of this year, and when talking to them about their eligibility many have no clear idea of exactly how it works, and some aren't even sure where they stand personally. It's not solely on the athlete to know what their eligibility is - they have to be open and truthful in disclosing information, but it's not there job to know whether or not they can actually play. Programs have to be diligent and regardless of if it's easy or not to find out eligibility for players in unique situations, teams have to know where their players stand or risk this type of embarassment unfolding. It's not good enough to think a player is eligible, you have to be certain. In the end it falls on the coaches and administrators to do their homework and make sure their own teams don't make the mistakes SFU and Manitoba have made.

  5. The simplest near-term solution, and followed by many CIS schools, is to make one person in the varsity athletics office resposible for all eligiblity checking. NOT A COACH. A coach can't help but give a player the benefit of the doubt if there is an eligiblity question because he wants the player in the game. An administrator should hopefully be more focused on getting it right. Ultimately it falls on the Athletic Director's shoulders -- it is his or her responsibility to make sure all student-athletes are properly vetted. The buck stops at the school.

    The CIS has enough trouble getting a website working properly and dealing with schools wanting to defect to the NCAA. Do we want to make them the eligiblity police as well?

  6. I should also add that I don't like how it looks like the Manitoba program is trying to protect the cause of this problem - Hardy.

    What happened to personal responsibility? Hardy was legally an adult when he got nabbed in that doping test. Getting handed a four-year suspension is certainly something memorable in a young man's life - and the responsibility is on him to make that information clear to Manitoba when he starts playing football there, and to Day 1 he should be asking how long he will able to play for that team. Yes, the doping violation is humiliating, but you can't go forward in life pretending it never happened.

    As for this last minute compassionate request by Manitoba to have Hardy's "sentence" reduced -- well they should have done that last year when he started with the team. I'm sorry Manitoba, too late, accept some blame and stop saying no one was at fault.

  7. The problem of having a CIS Enforcement Office is it creates an advesarial environment between the CIS and the schools. So, instead of working togeather on the same side of the issue, they end up on different sides of the same table arguing intent.

    It also leads to some schools, coaches and/or Admins taking the position of 'we'll bend the rules and lets see if we get caught' as I can see some schools leaving the question of eligability entierly up to the officer to decided (and if they are too busy - well that's not our (school's) fault - we provided the list).

    If you want real enforcement, put it squarely on the shoulders of the coach, Staff and AD by making it a morality clause in their 'terms of employeement' which, if violated, is subject to immediate dismisal with cause (such a dismissal is not eligable for EI). This would encourage programs to be more diligent in screening/interviewing their athletes.

  8. It doesn't have to be adversarial ... if you put in terms of we're trying to grow the game and a brand and we all suffer when this happens, maybe people will come around. You might be attacking what's associated with something rather than what it actually is.

    The one unintended consequence of having a morality clause (such a 20th-century term!) is you might scare away quality applicants. Honestly, if you at least beef up enforcement on a national and conference level, then there are no excuses for the Brian Dobies of the world when they get caught out like this.

  9. I have heard the "Seven year rule" which states an athlete out of high school has 7 years to complete 5 years of eligibility.....Yet I do not see hard copy proof of this, just bantered around on cisfootball.org. I understand this rule is supposed to be in effect. I do not fault Mr. Hardy for enrolling in school and having the opportunity to play..he was not recruited. I would hold Manitoba responsible for not checking up on players (or at least inquire).

    having said that, the CIS, Canada West conference look stupid in this. Yeah, where are those "CIS is holier than thou" supporters...I can't hear you.

  10. I'm pretty certain that Hardy was grandfathered in by the old rule considering the 7 year rule was not in existence in 2001 CISunethical.

    I agree with you sager you don't want to scare away quality applicants with harsh morality clauses. I also agree that this should not be placed on the shoulders of a Coach but rather someone within the Athletic Department itself.

    And lastly I agree with your comment about the media watchdog sager which was in your post. It shouldn't be expected that hours of background research be necessary but the way eligibility has been handled this year it seems that's what is necessary!

    Hopefully these incidents receiving so much media attention, thanks to being played in the media darling known as football, have been so embarrassing that schools will be extra diligent in checking their athletes from now on.

  11. Nice column Sager. Gwynne Dyer took a similar route when he came out with the book, Future Tense: the coming world order. In it he took issue with his profession for not questioning the rationale and motives behind the war in Iraq. Similarly, the tone and perspective of your article did a particularly nice job of pointing out the issue at hand without becoming holier-than-thou and grand standing to an extreme.

    Compliance offices, by their very nature, are adversarial entities. Any CIS directed application to police athletic departments and eligibility criteria will create the us-versus-them mentality, there is no getting away from it. With that said though, I don't have a problem with an over-seeing body that would help to eliminate these types of embarrassments. The idea that any attention is good attention doesn’t really resonate or hold water this time.