Soccer Panthers eligibility mistake may prove costly

By RYAN COOKE
Sept. 17, 2012

The UPEI Panthers Men’s Soccer team could find themselves in hot water, after discovering they used a player who may be deemed ineligible by Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Following a victory over Mount Alison on Sept. 8, and a scoreless draw with the Universite de Moncton on Sept. 9, the Panthers realized they might have made a costly mistake.
In the days following those two games, Panther’s coach Lewis Page learned that one of his players, Mark Behan, could have been ineligible to play in the first place.
Behan, a transfer student from Dublin, Ireland, came to Prince Edward Island as a part of the Dublin Institute of Technology’s transfer program. The program has sent several athletes to UPEI in recent years, including Ian Masterson, a mainstay on the UPEI Men’s Rugby squad last year.
The trouble, according to Page, is that new regulations have been brought in by the CIS, further restricting the rules on international players in men’s soccer.
“There’s new rules concerning professional players, and they now cover overseas amateurs as well,” Page said.
Tom Huisman, the CIS director of operations and development, said the new rules state that any player coming to the CIS from a foreign league who is over the age of 20 must sit out their first year of eligibility.
Previously, the rules stated that any player who played in a professional league must sit out. Now the rules have stretched to cover foreign amateur leagues as well. He said this is because it was becoming increasingly difficult for the CIS to determine whether or not a player had played professionally before, as many leagues do not have a clear distinction between pro and amateur.
The new rules, he says, make things easier for everyone.
“To bring consistency and to make it easier for schools and athletes to understand how the rules apply to them, the decision was made to make something that was uniform and fairly straightforward to understand and follow.”
Another reason for the new set of rules was to support homegrown talent, said Huisman.
“Part of it has to do with promoting and encouraging Canadian development and opportunity for players who follow a more traditional path of development.”
However, Page doesn’t believe things are so black and white.
“The transfer rule in the CIS says that an exchange student doesn’t have to sit out. But the other rule says that if he’s over the age of 20, he has to sit out.”
The transfer rule Page refers to states that any player on a full academic exchange, who had played interuniversity sport at their previous school, would be exempt from sitting out 365 days.
Behan is on a full academic exchange, however he had previously played for a local amateur club in his native Dublin.
Ron Annear, UPEI’s athletic director, said he first became aware of the potential problem shortly after the team’s second game.
He said each year, he and his staff comb through the opposing teams, taking a closer look at new players to get a better idea of what they’re up against, before turning the focus around.
“Then all of a sudden you start thinking about your own a little bit more, and you get a sick kind of feeling and say ‘let’s take a closer look at that’”
After discovering they may have made a mistake, Annear immediately began contact with the CIS, in what is know as a self-disclosure process.
Phillip Currie, executive director of Atlantic University Sport, said that while a self-disclosure doesn’t always help your case, it does make things easier in the long run.
“It’s kind of like the Canada Revenue Agency,” Currie said. “It’s better to be up front and get it out there, as opposed to letting it come back on you somewhere down the road.”
He said that matters such as this usually go straight to the CIS. Once a decision is made on whether or not rules have been broken, the CIS and AUS often work together on deciding a reprimand.
Currie would not comment on the probability of a reprimand since he had not yet spoken with the CIS, or Annear.
It wouldn’t be the first time a CIS team was dinged for using an illegal player.
Last February, York University issued a self-disclosure after realizing they had used an ineligible female volleyball player in a quarterfinal playoff game. As a result, the match was overturned and ruled a forfeit by York, eliminating them from the playoffs.
Recently, the University of British Columbia Men’s Football team was stripped from all their wins in the 2011 season, after they self-disclosed the ineligibility of one of their players. Their record was changed from 6-2, to 0-8, and they were fined $1,250.
Meanwhile, Annear is left to wait and prepare for a decision. He said he plans on submitting a compassion appeal on behalf of Behan, asking them to grant him special eligibility status.
“For us, it’s all about supporting the student-athlete.”
Behan could not be reached for comment.