It was not a shock to Old Dominion that Donte Hill’s eligibility for the upcoming year was uncertain. The school knew that Hill, a transfer from Clemson, would need some help from the NCAA to be eligible for his fifth season. Hill used a season of competition at Clemson when he played in a preseason closed scrimmage. Now ODU has to petition the NCAA to get Hill’s season back.
The situation looks similar to Tim Abromaitis, who played in preseason games as a sophomore when his coaches thought they were redshirting him. Abromatis was given his season back and sat out four games as a standard 2-for-1 penalty in those cases.
But there is a critical difference in Hill’s situation. There is no indication so far that Clemson coaches intended to redshirt Hill and made a mistake. Hill’s transfer also complicates matters further, since it is difficult to separate him using the season of eligibility but not playing from his decision to transfer.
The ray of hope for ODU and Hill is that the NCAA is slowing moving toward allowing more preseason competition without using eligibility. In 2010, the membership adopted Bylaw 126.96.36.199.4, which allows athletes to participate in alumni games, fundraising activities, and celebrity sports activities without using a season of competition. The existence of this bylaw makes it worth it for ODU to file. But a portion of the rationale for the proposal that created the rule (2009-63) makes it unlikely that ODU will be successful:
Alumni games, fundraising activities and celebrity sports activities are not designed to provide a competitive advantage.
While the general trend is there, at this point the existing rule is specifically limited to certain types of competition. Closed-door scrimmages and exhibition games against non-DI opponents are intended to provide a competitive advantage, to prepare teams for the upcoming season.
ODU also has to overcome the fact that in 2004-05, when the preseason exhibition/scrimmage rule was enacted, the idea of allowing basketball players to play in preseason events without using a season of competition was considered but rejected. That was in the original version of the proposal, 2004-112-A, which lost out to one of three additional alternatives, 2004-112-D. Alternative D expanded the proposal to all sports, but limited participation in preseason exhibitions and scrimmages to an athlete’s first year at the institution.
So Hill’s waiver is a long shot. There’s enough there to make it worth filing, but it will be rather surprising if the NCAA staff or committee grants the waiver. Approving ODU’s request will also be a major precedent and could expand attempts by schools to play their athletes in preseason or exempt contests then try and recover their eligibility.