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|Old Dominion's Donte Hill was denied an extra year of eligibility because he played eight minutes of a closed scrimmage in 2010 while with Clemson.|
Where does an eight-minute stint in a closed basketball scrimmage count as an entire season of competition?
Unfortunately for Old Dominion's Donte Hill, in the NCAA rule book.
Sticking to the letter of that bylaw, the NCAA on Thursday denied an appeal by ODU to restore a final season of eligibility for Hill, a co-captain who led the Monarchs in minutes played last season.
The ruling means that the career of the 6-foot-4 Norfolk Collegiate graduate is over.
"It's just a shame," coach Jeff Jones said. "I understand the rule is the rule. Unfortunately, Donte is the one who pays the price."
The issue stemmed from a closed scrimmage Hill played in for Clemson in 2010, days before announcing that he was transferring. An NCAA bylaw 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."
An exception is made for players in their first year in school. Hill, however, was in his second year at Clemson.
ODU coaches were aware Hill had played in the scrimmage when he transferred but apparently were counting on receiving a waiver. After sitting out a season as a transfer, Hill was classified by ODU as a sophomore in 2011-12 and a junior last season. No mention was made of a potential eligibility problem.
Jones said he became aware of the issue after he took over for Blaine Taylor as coach in April.
"It's just unfortunate," he said. "I feel really bad for Donte. As I told him this morning, I was looking forward to coaching him."
It's unclear whether the player was fully aware that he risked losing a full season when he decided to transfer from Clemson. Attempts to reach Hill on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Hill played one season there under former Tigers coach Oliver Purnell and sought to transfer after new coach Brad Brownell took over. Clemson informed ODU that Hill had participated in the scrimmage, against the University of Georgia, in October 2010.
Hill is on track to graduate in August and would have competed as a graduate student this coming season. An excellent student who is active in the community, he is the sort of player the NCAA makes commercials about, former ODU associate coach Jim Corrigan said.
"He represents everything that the NCAA espouses for a student athlete to be," Corrigan said. "He has handled himself with dignity and class on and off the court and in every facet of his life. It is extremely unfortunate that he's being penalized in such a manner when he has done everything the right way."
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.