By Katrina Geenevasen
A Loyalist College basketball player has been deemed ineligible to play after the college athletic director failed to carefully check eligibility rules.
Recreation and leisure services student Mike Latchford played basketball at the University of Maine in the United States for four years before deciding to attend Loyalist College.
While he was welcomed to the Loyalist Lancers with open arms, a rule laid out by the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) says that no student who has played for four years in the states is allowed to play a fifth year in Canada.
The rule prevents coaches from loading up on players who have already played for four years in the U.S. and are just looking to play one more year.
Jim Buck, Loyalist College athletic director, said made a mistake by overlooking the rule.
“There’s no one to blame but myself,” said Buck. “There is no one else that did it. I’m the athletic director, and it’s my job to look after things. So ultimately, I’m the fall guy, and this one is on my shoulders.”
Despite not being able to play the sport he loves most, Latchford says there are no hard feelings towards anybody.
“I’m going to say it’s an honest mistake that somebody just looked over,” said Latchford. “I’m not one to point fingers at anyone. It should have been caught earlier, but it wasn’t, so I’ve just got to move on I guess.”
While his team has moved on without him, Latchford, who is originally from the Belleville area, isn’t happy with the way things turned out. Although he has stepped in as an assistant coach, he says it just isn’t the same.
“It’s kind of upsetting,” said Latchford. “I’d only come back to school to pursue basketball a little bit more, so I found that was kind of crushing that I could not play basketball anymore.”
He said he finds it hard having to sit on the sidelines watching his team play.
Rich Whitfield, the men’s head basketball coach, said all the rules can sometimes be confusing.
“This is the first time that Loyalist has ever had an NCAA athlete play at the school,” said Whitfield. “And we have two sets of rules, which can sometimes be confusing. Our athletic department just made a simple mistake. There’s no other way of putting it. It was the first time that this had ever come up.”
Buck said he’s been with college athletics for 28 years, and that he hasn’t made a lot of mistakes, but admits he made a big one where Latchford is concerned.
“Part of our responsibilities are to know all our rules and we try to read our books and know it all, but there’s a lot of them,” said Buck. “I have binders full of the rules I need to know, and occasionally, we make mistakes.”
While he’s sorry for the mistake, Buck said he’s accepted it. He added that it wasn’t personal, and he feels it’s okay to move on.
“Fortunately, we found out when we did as opposed to further in the season when there would have been bigger ramifications,” said Buck. “ Mike would have been deemed as an illegal player, and any wins we had we would have had to default.”
It seems the team has moved on as well.
“We lost an experienced guy, we definitely lost some size, so it’s hurt us as far as size and rebounding,” said Whitfield. “In the same breath, we’re dealt the hand we have, and we’ve made the best of it. I don’t like to see anybody have to sit out from the sport they love, but we as a team have to move on and just play basketball in the end. We can’t just pack up shop because one guy isn’t able to play with us.”
In fact, before Latchford was let go from the team, the Lancer’s were 0-2. Without Latchford on the team, they’ve won both games. Which, according to Buck, were “tough” games.
“We carried on,” said Whitfield. “If we got down, we wouldn’t be doing the right thing. And the guys basically said, ‘This is what we have to do. We’re undersized, and we’re going to have a task at hand and we have to get through the task.’ So that was the big thing, they kind of rallied around it instead of just shutting down. The guys just look at it as a mission now.”
Whitfield added that there are no hard feelings on his part.
“It could have been prevented, but ultimately, we’re all human,” said Whitfield.
“Mistakes do happen. And I know the athletic department felt horrible having to do it, but we have to follow rules. It’s pretty cut and dry, we have to follow the rules.”