An open letter from a college basketball player is shedding an uncomfortable light on one program and a flawed NCAA process.
Following his junior season at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, center Todd O'Brien served an internship in nearby Delaware County, where he focused on local economics, O'Brien writes in a letter that was published on SI.com.
Three classes away from graduation, he walked in May and began looking at other schools. NCAA rules allow a player who has graduated to transfer without a penalty if his current school does not offer his desired degree program. The graduate degree O'Brien was interested in, public administration, is not available at St. Joe's.
Finding the major he wanted at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, O'Brien applied for a Grad Student Transfer Exception. The most notable recent use of the exception is by quarterback Russell Wilson, who was able to transfer from North Carolina State to Wisconsin and play right away because he had earned his undergraduate degree at NC State.
But O'Brien's transfer ran into difficulty when the NCAA submitted paperwork for St. Joe's to approve the transfer.
"Regardless of what the rule is, I'll never release you," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said, according to O'Brien's letter. "If you're not playing basketball at St. Joe's next year, you won't be playing anywhere."
O'Brien is now at UAB, where he is studying public administration and practicing with the Blazers, but he is not allowed to play in any games.
Because St. Joe's would not sign the waiver, the NCAA declined O'Brien's request for the exception and a subsequent appeal.
St. Joe's declined comment in a statement, which was also posted by SI, but O'Brien writes that St. Joe's claimed his transfer was for athletic reasons.
"For them to say it was not academic is foolish; I did an internship in the exact area of study, and Saint Joseph's did not offer any grad degree programs pertaining to that field," O'Brien writes. "To deny a grad student eligibility to play based on the bitter opinion of a coach? You can't be afraid to set precedent if it means doing the right thing."
Martelli has not commented, and in the meantime college basketball experts are lambasting the coach, who guided the Hawks to an undefeated regular season, a No. 1 ranking and an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2003-04.
Eamonn Brennan of ESPN summed up why most coaches swallow hard and sign the transfer requests even when they hate the idea of one of their players playing elsewhere.
"In most cases, coaches realize denying a transfer request is either a) the wrong thing to do, morally; b) horrible for recruiting and perception; or c) some combination of the two."
St. Joe's, which is off to its best start in years, suddenly has a headache even last year's 11-22 record could not match.
Thumbnail photo via Flickr/MNJSports
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