Donte Hill and former Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor (USA Today Sports Images)
Donte Hill chose not to participate in senior night festivities at Old Dominion last March because the 6-foot-4 guard was optimistic he'd win his petition this offseason and receive another full year of eligibility.
On Thursday, he learned never to assume common sense will prevail when the NCAA is involved.
NCAA officials denied Hill's petition, ruling that the eight minutes he played in a closed-door preseason scrimmage in 2010 counted as an entire season of eligibility. Hill did not play again in the 2010-11 season, transferring from Clemson to Old Dominion soon after the scrimmage and sitting out the rest of the year.
Newly hired Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones said Clemson officials told him they informed Hill he was risking an entire year of eligibility by transferring after the scrimmage, but Hill told Jones he was unaware until afterward. Regardless, barring a change of heart from the NCAA, Hill will not be allowed to play for Old Dominion next season and his college career is over.
"Donte was clearly disappointed, but I think he had at least to some degree come to grips that this was the most likely outcome," Jones said. "I feel bad for him. He's a very nice young man. He's done a great job in the classroom. Everyone at ODU I've talked to, talks about his character and his leadership. It's tough. It would have been great if the outcome had been different."
The bylaw in question states that "any competition, regardless of time, during a season in an intercollegiate sport shall be counted as a season of competition in that sport." The NCAA makes an exception for true freshmen, but Hill was beginning his sophomore season at Clemson when he participated in the scrimmage.
That the NCAA chose a strict interpretation of the rule is a bit surprising both because of the severity of the penalty and because of the precedent it has previously set. In 2011, the NCAA chose not to take a full year of eligibility from Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis for playing in two exhibition games during a redshirt year, opting instead to more justly punish him with a four-game suspension to start his senior season.
The difference in Abromaitis' situation is Notre Dame coach Mike Brey intended to redshirt the forward but made a mistake and interpreted the rule wrong. There is no indication Clemson coaches intended to redshirt Hill had he chosen to remain with the Tigers for the season.
"I'm aware of the Abromaitis situation because I remember talking about to Mike Brey about it, but whether that applied to this I don't know," Jones said. "We didn't cite it in our waiver request. Quite honestly, I hadn't thought of that until I read your article earlier today."
Why would the NCAA not consider a similar suspension for Hill? That's not immediately clear. An NCAA spokeswoman did not return an email Friday morning seeking an explanation of the decision.
The loss of Hill is punch to the gut for an Old Dominion program that has sustained quite a few of them recently.
Perennial NCAA tournament contenders prior to last season, Old Dominion staggered through a 5-25 season in which the Monarchs finished last in the CAA in their final year in the league. Old Dominion dismissed longtime coach Blaine Taylor in February with a terse statement indicating the decision was not based solely on wins and losses but also on the need for the players to have greater "mentorship, leadership and guidance."
Hill did everything in his power to keep the overmatched Monarchs competitive last season, scoring 8.2 points per game and defending every position from point guard to power forward. The co-captain would have been the only senior on the 2013-14 team were he allowed to play.
"We'll miss that leadership and experience," Jones said. "I looked at him as a guy who would have made a contribution, but now we're going to have to rely on our younger guys to grow up more quickly."
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