Over the past 24 hours it seems like every college basketball analyst in America has had their say over Todd O’Brien relaying his side of his attempt to gain an immediate waiver to play basketball at UAB after graduating from Saint Joseph’s. For those who are not aware of the details of the story, the Reader’s Digest version is that O’Brien took summer classes at Saint Joseph’s so he could gain his undergraduate degree and had one year of eligibility remaining to play basketball. Sources close to the program say that O’Brien said he would return for his final year of eligibility during the early summer months. Toward the end of July O’Brien had changed his mind, telling Hawks coach Phil Martelli that he would be enrolling in another school’s graduate program. O’Brien has been seeking a waiver to become immediately eligible, much like Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson used this season after getting his undergraduate degree from NC State. However, Saint Joseph’s has refused to sign off on the waiver.
Saint Joseph’s will not reveal the reasons why they have refused to sign the waiver, citing privacy rules. In the SI.com piece, O’Brien said that Martelli became irate when he notified the coach of his intention to leave the program and enroll in a different school for graduate school. The question is, why was Martelli so upset over O’Brien leaving when he was probably either the 9th or 10th player in the rotation for the upcoming season?
Martelli has a track record of making sure players who may not fit into the program’s plans or players who want to leave because of lack of playing time land on their feet. Recent examples of this include Chris Prescott (Saint Peter’s), A.J. Rogers (Norfolk State) and Bryant Irwin (Furman). Those are players from the 2009-10 roster who have transferred to other Division-I schools, while Justin Crosgile from the 2010-11 squad is sitting out this year before he plays for Eastern Washington next year. The point is, Martelli does not typically hold grudges against players just because it doesn’t work out at St. Joe’s, there needs to be something deeper involved.
While some have speculated that O’Brien’s alleged involvement as an accomplice in a laptop theft as a potential reason for Saint Joseph’s to not sign off on the deal, that just doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. O’Brien served a four-game suspension last year before reportedly being cleared of any charges in the incident, which led to the dismissal of guard Pat Swilling Jr. from the program.
Martelli’s frustration more likely lies with the fact that O’Brien had told the coaching staff that he would be returning for his final year of eligibility and even worked at some summer basketball camps on campus before making a late decision to change his mind. Also, the university paid for O’Brien’s three summer classes while he was on scholarship, thinking that O’Brien would honor his commitment and play his final season with the Hawks. This left the Hawks lacking in depth this season as the Hawks only have nine scholarship players on their roster.
One important fact that seems to have been glossed over in wake of yesterday’s revelations by O’Brien is the fact that a five-member committee from the NCAA also denied O’Brien’s waiver and while O’Brien stated it was only because Saint Joseph’s refused to sign off on it, the reason actually appears to be because the NCAA is following its own rules. Among the conditions for a graduate student waiver from the NCAA is this: “The student-athlete may not have transferred previously from another four-year institution unless he or she transferred previously and received an exception to the transfer residence requirement because his or her institution either discontinued the sport or did not sponsor the sport in which the student-athlete is a participant.” O’Brien transferred from Bucknell after one season to play at Saint Joseph’s and it had nothing to do with the Patriot League member discontinuing its basketball program as the Bison are still alive and well.
By the NCAA’s own rules, O’Brien is not eligible for this waiver. It is there in black and white, yet the national media wants to villify Phil Martelli. The outrage should be levelled at the NCAA, not Martelli, who is the conveient scapegoat because O’Brien’s relationship with the coach seemed to have broken down, much like it did with his coach at Bucknell. Does anybody sense a pattern here?