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Thunderbirds stripped of victories due to self-disclosed eligibility violation

12/20/2011 01:50 EST | Updated 02/19/2012 05:12 EST
VANCOUVER - The University of British Columbia football team's memorable turnaround season is now erased from history.

UBC has been stripped of all of its 2011 wins for using an ineligible player. The Canada West Universities Athletic Association made the announcement Tuesday, adding the school has been fined $1,000 plus an additional $250 for costs associated with the investigation and is on probation through the 2012-13 season.

"This has been going on for 10 days or so," UBC coach Shawn Olson told the Canadian Press in an interview. "We've kind of known something was going to happen. It was a question of how harsh the sanction was going to be. I was hoping they would take a softer stance."

The decision comes after the Thunderbirds posted a 6-2 record, finished in second place in the Canada West conference, and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. They beat Saskatchewan 27-22 in the opening playoff round before dropping a 62-13 decision to Calgary on Nov. 11.

"It's unfortunate," said Canada West president Sandy Slavin. "They didn't realize they had a player who was ineligible."

The association said an unidentified UBC player participated in all eight regular season games as well as the two playoff contests despite having already exhausted his Canadian Interuniversity Sport eligibility. Slavin and Olson said violation stemmed from the player's participation in junior football.

Olson chalked up the situation to an administrative error based on information provided to the player during a previous coaching regime.

"He had no intention of doing anything wrong," Olson said.

CIS confirmed the violation, adding UBC co-operated fully in the investigation and the infraction was unintentional. Slavin said the $1,000 fine was the maximum allowable financial punishment. The violation was noticed until after the season, when someone contacted Olson and said he might have an ineligible player.

The association will not identify the player because he was not at fault for the violation, she added. However, multiple media reports have identified the player as defensive lineman Connor Flynn, a Vancouver native who previously played for the Vancouver Trojans of the B.C. Junior Football Conference.

Canada West did not seek any reimbursement of any bursaries or funding provided to the player, she added. It's up to UBC whether it wants to take action in that regard.

UBC could face stiffer sanctions if another violation occurs in the future. Slavin said the nature of the punishment would depend on the extent of the future violation. Canada West rules have similar open-ended wording wording on potential punishment, she added.

UBC is in the process of hiring an eligibility compliance officer, she added, and already had mechanisms in place to check player eligibility. But this infraction was not noticed.

Now, the Thunderbirds will have a 0-8 record with all of their prior wins reverting to 1-0 losses.

Individual statistics and awards will remain in place. Quarterback Billy Greene will keep the Hec Crichton Trophy he won as the top university football player in Canada. His 2,558 passing yards, which led the country, and share 20 touchdown passes will also remain on the books. So will his 482 rushing yards — the best among CIS pivots.

"None of his records or anything will be affected," Slavin said.

In 2009, the University of Manitoba Bisons had to forfeit three wins and subsequently missed the playoffs, because they used an ineligible player. In 2001, the Laval Rouge et Or forfeited its conference title, which was awarded to runner up McGill because of an ineligible player. Laval's Atlantic Bowl result was also erased.

The CIS ruled that the player, Enrico Pierre, and Laval coach Glen Constantin were not at fault. However, Laval had to reimburse the two schools, Bishops and McGill, that hosted its conference playoff games $10,000, with $5,000 going to each institution.

Laval also had to reimburse up to $7,500 for any funds received for participation in the Atlantic Bowl from the Quebec or Atlantic conferences or CIS.

In 2009, the Canada West conference revised its rules, limiting a player's eligibility to five years within seven years of his scheduled high school graduation date. Slavin said the UBC player in question was among those who were exempt from the change because he started playing before the new rule was implemented.

"He was grandfathered," said Slavin. "He was not on the time clock."

UBC correctly determined that the player was grandfathered, but overlooked a previous year of used eligibility. Slavin and Olson said the situation has resulted in part because the CIS has changed its rules three times in recent years in a bid to simplify eligibility requirements.

The country's four football-playing conferences — Canada West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic — choose to apply CIS eligibility rules, although they have the ability to use their own rules if they wish.

"We're getting better, but we may have to look at it further," said Slavin of clarifying eligibility rules.

Olson, a former Simon Fraser University offensive co-ordinator who was heavily involved in recruiting, said he has always tried to ensure that eligibility rules are met. He vowed to turn the sanction into a positive.

"From my perspective, it doesn't change anything we did or what we accomplished on the field," he said.

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