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)