Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hey St Joe's, Do the Right Thing!

Late this afternoon, a friend whose twitter feed I follow, Travis Mason Bushman, tweeted something about an article in SI.Com.  I followed the link and read Todd O'Brien's story called "St. Joe's won't release me to play at UAB and I don't know why".  O'Brien has a scholarship to play at UAB but is not able to play with the Blazers.  Herein lies one of the most interesting and appalling stories of the college basketball season.

O'Brien originally was recruited by Bucknell and played for the Bison in 2007-08, making the All-Rookie Patriot League team.   But O'Brien had aspirations to play in the Big Five like his uncle did.  So he transferred on scholarship to Saint Joseph's.

After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer regulations, O'Brien played for the Hawks for two seasons.  In his first season, 2009-10, O'Brien played nearly twenty three minutes per game.  He led St. Joe's in rebounding, averaging  6.3 rebounds per game (which was 15th in the A-10 that season), while scoring 5.6 points per game.  O'Brien actually had four double doubles in the 2009-10 season and had a career high 20 points and 12 rebounds in an 82-69 win over Fordham on January 9, 2010.

But last season, O'Brien saw his minutes decrease dramatically.  He averaged only seven minutes during the season and actually did not play in nine games.  Since O'Brien had sat out a year, he was at the point where he could graduate.  He did this summer, but actually walked in the May graduation.   O'Brien decided he want to go to graduate school elsewhere and use the NCAA's Graduate Student Transfer Exception, which he was eligible for since he only played three years.

O'Brien then went to St Joe's coach Phil Martelli and told him that he planned to go to grad school elsewhere.  Martelli was apparently quite upset.  Then O'Brien went to see Don DiJulia, the Athletic Director at St Joseph's and told him of his intentions.  When O'Brien went back to Martelli, Martelli told him "Regardless of what the rule is I'll never release you. If you're not playing basketball at St. Joe's next year, you won't be playing anywhere."

After St. Joseph's gave him "a permission to speak form", O'Brien looked at other schools and was interested in UAB's Public Administration program.  Then O'Brien spoke with UAB's Associate Head Coach Donnie Marsh, who played high school ball in Lancaster County.  O'Brien is from Lancaster County and he went to UAB for an official visit. He decided to enroll at UAB.

But St. Joseph's would still not release him, so O'Brien appealed to the NCAA. My favorite organization, aka the No Clue At All, denied O'Brien's appeal, stating that based on their rules St Joseph's had to grant his release. Thus O'Brien sits in limbo and as a result wrote the CNN/SI article to plead his case.

First, for a coach to actually say to another school that O'Brien "wronged him", is childish, vindictive behavior.  O'Brien "wronged" Martelli by wanting to transfer to another school for graduate work?  I am sure Martelli didn't think O'Brien "wronged" Bucknell when he transferred from the Bison to the Hawks after his freshman year.  You didn't see Bucknell not grant O'Brien his release to transfer to St. Joseph's.

Second, what if was St Joe's was right and that O'Brien's transfer to UAB was ""more athletic then academically motivated"?  First of  all, O'Brien was averaging seven minutes per game last season.  It wasn't like he was starting or seeing significant minutes.  Second, Halil Kanacevic, a transfer from Hofstra, was now eligible to play this season, so O'Brien was going to see even less minutes had he stayed at St. Joseph's.  Third, O'Brien transferred to UAB, which is not another Big Five school, doesn't play in the same conference as St. Joe's, wasn't on the Hawks' schedule and is nowhere near the Hawks campus.

So what if O'Brien was athletically motivated?  Can you blame him?  It's his right to want to transfer to another school to play.  Basketball players on scholarship do this ALL the time, transferring to other schools to get more playing time. And by the way, Kanacevic is playing twenty five minutes per game, averaging 6.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, numbers pretty close to what  O'Brien averaged in the 2009-10 season.

O'Brien's history is very similar to a student athlete who played briefly in the CAA, John Fields. Fields originally played at East Carolina for two seasons, averaging nearly ten points and five rebounds per game his sophomore season.  Fields transferred to UNCW, sat out a year and then played for the Seahawks in the 2009-10 season.  For UNC Wilmington, Fields played twenty four minutes per game, averaging ten points and nearly nine rebounds per game.

After theoretically his junior season, Fields actually graduated from UNCW.  He used the Graduate Student Transfer Exception and transferred to Tennessee.  You could certainly say that the transfer to the Volunteers  was ""more athletic then academically motivated."  However, you didn't see the UNCW administration refuse to grant the waiver.  Fields played a lot more minutes and contributed a lot more than O'Brien did in his junior season.  And if you know that UNCW team from last season, they certainly could have used Fields for his last year of eligibility.

Martelli is certainly not the only one to blame here.  DiJulia could have easily overruled his coach.  Instead he goes along with Martelli's vindictive behavior.  And how does the NCAA not grant the appeal in this process after the evidence listed below;
...when Saint Joseph's turned in the requested paperwork to the NCAA about my transfer, school officials had selected "Yes" to the the question "Do you object to Todd O'Brien being eligible for competition this season?" Under the part that said "If yes, then why do you object" there was no reason.
It's obviously clear that St Joseph's HAD NO REASON other than a vindictive coach feeling he was "wronged".  Yet the NCAA didn't see it that way.

Now supposedly O'Brien was involved in a laptop theft and as Seth Davis notes in a tweet "Martelli went to bat 4 kid when he was involved w laptop theft."  An ESPN article states the "Philadelphia Daily News reported he was "peripherally involved with a laptop (theft) situation" and was benched for a game against Xavier as a result.

If that's the case and Martelli did stand up for him, then why would he care if O'Brien left the team. If he was "peripherally involved" in the laptop theft, then do you want someone like that on your team, especially if they are only playing a few minutes per game?  It just doesn't make sense to refuse to grant his waiver in that case.

But what it comes down to is you have a coach wielding power with no legitimate reason behind it (based on the original St Joseph's paperwork); an athletic director without the decency to do the right thing and a powerful, yet clueless organization that tows the company line instead of looking at the evidence.

O'Brien is the first player in NCAA history to not be allowed the Graduate Student Transfer Exception.  He certainly feels "wronged". O'Brien had no other forum to plead his case, except to write an article for a national publication to tell his story.

Already Seth Davis has taken to the Twitter world to push for O'Brien's case.  And you can see that other news organizations like ESPN have picked up the story.   It's time for St Joseph's to do the right thing and follow Henry Jones Sr's advice to his son in a climatic scene in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".

"Let it go."

Yes, Phil Martelli, let it go and let O'Brien has his waiver.  Enough is enough.

1 comment:

  1. Hats off to Seth Davis for taking up this kid's case. Thumbs down (as usual) to the NCAA for failing to act appropriately as the governing body of intercollegiate athletics. At a bare minimum they should have forced ST Joe's to state a valid reason for denying the transfer or, if unable, release the kid to play.

    I guess the NCAA is too busy scheming how to ring the next set of lucrative TV contracts out of the major networks than take up the case of a student athlete. Sad...