Football players ‘in limbo’

When Steven Ples and Matt Vonk transferred to Laurier last summer, it looked as though their football careers were saved.

After the University of Waterloo (UW) suspended its football program in the wake of a steroid scandal, Ples and Vonk were among seven former Warriors who found solace at Laurier. But that solace has proved to be short-lived as those former Warriors have recently learned that they are no longer able to play for the Golden Hawks.

Worse yet, they’ve also been ruled ineligible to return to UW.

“I have tremendous compassion for them,” said Laurier manager of football operations and head coach Gary Jeffries of his now former players. “[Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS)] is showing no compassion for what these kids have gone through and to now leave them in limbo is totally unfair.”

According to the CIS, Vonk and Ples were ineligible to return to Laurier next year due to a failure to meet academic requirements.

The seven former Warriors came to Laurier as visiting students, which meant that they were taking the required three courses to play football at Laurier in the fall, while applying those credits to their UW degrees. However, the players had to take three more courses in the winter term in order to be eligible in 2011, something the Warriors-turned-Hawks were unaware of.

“When we got the information it was the end of July, it was crunch-time,” said Ples. “We had to decide right then where we were going to play in August and it was tough to make an informed decision because we were scrambling to decide where to play before camp started.”

However, in CIS director of operations and development Tom Huisman’s eyes, the rules were plain.

“It’s very clear in our regulations, visiting students are subject to all rules,” he said. “[Vonk’s and Ples’s] Laurier transcripts would need to recognize and demonstrate the successful completing of 18 credit hours at that particular school.”

According to Ples, taking three more courses at Laurier would have been next to impossible if he wanted to stay on track for his degree.

“For my program I already don’t have any electives left to choose from,” said the fourth-year. “So to get my degree I have to take all the rest of my classes at Waterloo, or I could stay at Laurier but I would have to be taking courses that don’t really apply to my degree.”

Unable to play at Laurier, Vonk’s and Ples’s next course of action was to return to UW. However, they were then informed that the CIS would be enacting the standard rule that requires players to sit out a year when transferring schools — the rule the CIS waived last summer that let the former Warriors come to Laurier.

“[The CIS] used the rulebook and I think it was unjust in this situation,” said Jeffries. “If they can’t take classes here, they should be able to go back without a penalty.”

Of the other Warriors who made their way down the street, only defensive back Cory Allen and receiver Dustin Zender are guaranteed to have the chance to play football next year. Allen fully transferred to Laurier, while Zender will be taking a master’s degree at UW.

Defensive back Patrick McGarry and defensive end Andrew Heely both graduated, while safety Mitch Nicholson has decided to try and go back to Waterloo, despite being eligible to return to Laurier.

According to Laurier’s athletics director Peter Baxter, UW is set to make an appeal to a CIS eligibility committee but no timetable is set.

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