Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Blog: The Spirit of Christmas Bypasses Phil Martelli
After all the bad press the NCAA and college athletics has received over the past year — recruiting scandals at Miami and Ohio State, sexual abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse — the last thing it needs is another black eye. However, it’s got one, courtesy of Saint Joseph's University men's basketball coach Phil Martelli.|
Todd O’Brien, a former St. Joe's student-athlete who graduated last year, is trying to use the NCAA's waiver rule so that he can play basketball at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he is pursuing a graduate degree in public administration — a degree that is not offered at St. Joe's. St. Joe’s, however, has refused to grant him a release from his scholarship, a condition for the waiver to be granted, and the NCAA, on appeal, has refused to grant the waiver. O’Brien’s open plea to the university and the NCAA ran last week on SI.com.
A legal question: What the heck is going on here?
Are St. Joe’s and Martelli denying the requested waiver because the two schools play in the same conference? No — UAB is in Conference USA, while St. Joe's plays in the Atlantic 10. Is O’Brien a key member of the St. Joe's basketball team? Again, no — O'Brien averaged just 1 point and 1.3 rebounds in 7.2 minutes per game last season for St. Joe's, and Martelli reportedly told him he "didn't see him in the future in the program."
There is, seemingly, no legitimate reason for not releasing him. Martelli (and AD Don Dijulia) rebuffed repeated requests for comment by ESPN after the SI.com story broke. O'Brien's attorney, Donald Jackson, told ESPN.com that he talked with Martelli about O'Brien and was told by the coach that O’Brien “was the most disloyal player he has ever coached." For its part, St. Joe’s released the following statement to SI.com:
"Saint Joseph's University followed all applicable NCAA procedures and applied consistent internal practices in declining to support the requested transfer exception. Upon appeal, the NCAA legislative relief waiver team (initial decision) and the Division I Subcommittee for Legislative Relief (final decision) each reviewed the case and did not grant the requested waiver.
"Institutional policy and federal student records law prohibit Saint Joseph's from releasing additional or confidential information in this matter. As all eligibility determinations rest with the NCAA and not its member institutions, Saint Joseph's University has no further comment and considers the matter closed."
The only conclusion a reasonable person can reach is that St. Joe's and Martelli are denying the request as some punitive measure. If that’s the case, why hasn’t the NCAA done more? During the past year, the NCAA and its president Mark Emmert, have repeatedly claimed that they are working to protect athletes’ rights. With regard to O’Brien, the NCAA and St. Joe’s should do the right thing and allow the waiver.