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Transfer Technicalities

By Beacon Staff

I am not a fan of an NCAA provision that allows an athlete who has remaining eligibility to switch schools and play immediately in another program after they obtain an undergraduate degree and pursue a master’s degree at the new school, which is not offered at the original institution.

But that has been the letter of the governing body’s law with the caveat that the first school give the athlete a release in order to transfer.

That’s the rub with Todd O’Brien, a seven-footer who played sparingly at Saint Joseph’s University and, after obtaining his degree last spring, sought to transfer to the University of Alabama Birmingham.

However, for reasons head coach Phil Martelli has not explained, the release, which would have allowed O’Brien already to be on the floor, was denied. This prompted an appeal to the NCAA, which refused to bend the rule, consequently leaving O’Brien on the sideline.

He appealed a second time using his first semester grades from UAB in public administration as evidence that he did not transfer for athletics but academics, but the NCAA again refused to issue the necessary waiver, citing again the lack of a release.

O’Brien, who already is a double transfer having started his collegiate career at Bucknell before transferring to Saint Joe’s, a Jesuit school in Philadelphia, has continued to practice in Birmingham and wrote a guest editorial in Sports Illustrated to bring publicity to his case.

While Martelli continues to refuse comment on the reason behind his refusal, he told ESPN.com that Todd was the most “disloyal” player he has ever coached.

In digging in his heels, Martelli, who is a highly respected veteran coach, seems to be trying to make a point about a specific player. But he’s granted such permission in other cases involving more talented players than O’Brien, who played some seven minutes a game on an 11-22 team last season while averaging 1 point and a bit more than 1 rebound.

Martelli sat O’Brien for a game last season reportedly because he was allegedly implicated in the theft of a laptop computer, a situation in which he was later exonerated.

Now this isn’t a case of a star player being refused a transfer because his talent might come back to bite you. The two schools are in different leagues and not scheduled to play each other.

And since O’Brien already has graduated any potential transfer will not affect Saint Joseph’s NCAA-mandated graduation requirements.

Does this all sound just too personal to you?

Over the years and as recently as the 2010-2011 basketball season, players who either didn’t fit the Montana program or were not good enough to play at a Division I level were granted a release and in most cases given assistance to find another school that could potentially be a better fit.

While Martelli has a solid reputation, he’s wrong on this one and would have been served far better just releasing O’Brien before the issue came under so much national scrutiny.

He has been practicing at UAB and, while his athletic tools apparently didn’t serve him well at St. Joe’s, he should be allowed to complete his final year at another institution.