Coach and athletic director Jim Brown said he had misinterpreted a regulation, resulting in an unnamed Hawks player's ineligibility to play in HJC's 92-84 upset victory over Allegany College of Cumberland, Md.
Because of the forfeit, HJC not only lost the region title, but the right to host this weekend's District III tournament, which will decide what team will play in next week's national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
"The error was solely mine," Brown said. "Ignorance of a rule is no excuse, nor is the rule's interpretation."
Brown and HJC officials refused to identify the ineligible player.
"I won't identify him because this was my fault, not his. He should not have to pay for my mistake," Brown said.
The regulation in question concerns the effect summer school attendance has on eligibility.
The player attended summer classes to help him get the grades to maintain eligibility to compete. Players are required to pass 12 credit hours per semester with a 1.75 GPA per semester. Summer school can be used to bring up a GPA.
The player scheduled 12 credits of classes in summer school, which under the rules is considered a full semester.
Had he scheduled fewer than 12 credits, summer school would have been considered as "hours used to the accumulated GPA," and not as an additional semester, according to Mary Ellen Leicht, NJCAA assistant executive director.
Officials said the rules violation was not related to the amount of time he spent at HJC. It related instead to his academic performance.
Leicht said the matter is still under investigation, but that Allegany had been awarded the region title, and giving the Trojans' a 31-0 overall record and preserving the team's No. 2 national ranking.
Brown said he learned of the violation from Allegany coach Bob Kirk at 1:30 p.m. Brown said Kirk told him he was notified of the problem by a coach from a four-year school.
Brown said player transcripts had been faxed twice this academic year to other schools in order to help players gain admission to four-year schools.
A coach at one of those schools noticed the summer school information on the player's transcript, and believed it constituted an extra semester, and therefore an eligibility violation, Brown said.
He said because he misinterpreted the regulation, he was unaware that the player was ineligible.
"If we were trying to hide something, do you think we would have faxed out the transcripts?" Brown said. "There was no deceit on our part. If you read the regulation, it's not clear. We called and asked the national association for a ruling."
Brown notified Allegany of the forfeit before informing the Hawks of the twist of fate in a 4 p.m. meeting. Many left the room with tears in their eyes.
In his official statement, Brown apologized to "his players, HJC fans and the school that supported us throughout the season. I am very proud of our team for playing one of the best games of my career."
He also apologized to Allegany for the "unfortunate oversight."
Devon Wade, an HJC sophomore captain, appeared to be trying to keep the news in perspective.
"It was my dream to go to the nationals when I came here," Wade said. "Then, when we were going to the districts, I was on cloud nine.
"This season was magic, no matter what the record says. The Lord has a plan for us all. Maybe it's for us to work harder and come back and get it next year."