U Sports will revisit controversial football eligibility ruling after players, staff fight back

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WATCH: A Calgary Dinos football player is fighting back after a controversial U SPORTS decision that would take him and hundreds of other players off the field for their senior year. As Cami Kepke reports, the board of directors has agreed to take another look at the decision – Jul 16, 2020

Josiah Joseph should be preparing for the best season of his life.

Instead, the reigning Vanier Cup champion may never wear a Calgary Dinos uniform again.

“In the back of my mind, I was thinking I get one year, that’s when I’ll showcase myself to the CFL scouts,” Joseph said.

“I was really looking forward to having that starting full starting year under my belt and my career off.”

Read more: Adam Sinagra leads Calgary Dinos to Vanier Cup championship in final U Sports game

The academic all-Canadian is fighting back after a controversial league decision that could shut him and as many as 315 other players out of their senior year on the field.

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U Sports football’s ‘age rule’ prevents players turning 25 before Sept. 1 from competing in an effort to maintain parity across the country.

With the upcoming season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Joseph and other athletes hoped the league would grant them an extension to play out their careers in 2021.

“We were returning a majority of our team and we were fully expecting to compete for a national championship again,” Dinos head coach Wayne Harris, Jr. told Global News.

“We had great leadership coming back into our program in all sorts of capacities including Josiah, who would have been our starting quarterback for this season.”

Read more: U Sports cancels 6 national championships due to COVID-19 pandemic

The Dinos stand to lose four of their veteran players due to the decision.

“It’s just devastating that our careers have been just ended abruptly due to the pandemic,” Joseph said from his home in Peachland, BC.

“It’s tough for us because we see a lot of different organizations adapting to the situation. So when they said they weren’t, that they’re going to draw the line, that was truly devastating.”

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“It certainly is very punitive,” Harris added. “Those guys that have been affected by it, we’re very concerned for them.”

The players had the backing of the Canadian University Football Coaches Association and a technical committee, but the league said no.

“Our legal advice was to be concerned about setting a precedent,” USPORTS interim CEO Richard White explained. “If we show that we’re willing to make an exception, we may then be challenged by, say, a 27-year-old who comes along and says, ‘Look, I’m taking an MBA. I’d like to play football on your team, and I’m going to challenge you, and, and the rule could be wiped out.”

“That was a risk that the board was not prepared to take.”

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The league has also argued that allowing the seniors back would take away playing time from younger athletes.

Since making the announcement last week, U Sports has faced intense backlash from players, coaches, and current CFLers — some of whom say they wouldn’t have a pro football career if not for a critical fifth year.

Read more: Bringing Vanier Cup back to Grey Cup week ‘a very real possibility,’ CFL commissioner says

On Thursday, White said the league’s board of directors will take another look at the issue in the next 10 days, while some teams — including the Dinos — explore legal action.

“Ultimately, it’ll be up to the board of directors, whether want to reconsider or not,” White noted.

“My role as CEO is to make sure that the board is aware, aware of how our membership feels aware of the pushback from the student-athletes.”

It’s a push that Joseph says will only get stronger.

He’s collecting testimony from current players and CFLers in hopes of getting an audience with U Sports brass.

“I do have a lot of hope,” Joseph said. “I’m just getting started with what I’m willing to do to fight for my season for me and the other guys in the same situation.”