This may only be one side of the story, but it's a pretty compelling side.
Former St. Joseph's basketball center Todd O'Brien has written a column in Sports Illustrated accusing the university's athletic department—and head coach Phil Martelli, in particular—of prohibiting his transfer to the University of Alabama-Birmingham without cause.
O'Brien, who is currently enrolled at UAB and taking classes toward the achievement of his Masters Degree, alleges that Martelli is prohibiting him from exercising his remaining year of eligibility out of pure spite. Spite is really the only assumed motivation, because, according to O'Brien, St. Joseph's did not provide an explanation as to why they were declining his request for transfer when they were prompted to do so.
[excerpts from the piece and an official response from St. Joseph's University below]
"I met with Coach Martelli to inform him that I would not be returning. I had hoped he would be understanding; just a few weeks before, we had stood next to each other at graduation as my parents snapped photo. Unfortunately, he did not take it well. After calling me a few choice words, he informed me that he would make some calls so that I would be dropped from my summer class and would no longer graduate. He also said that he was going to sue me. When he asked if I still planned on leaving, I was at a loss for words. He calmed down a bit and said we should think this over then meet again in a few days. I left his office angry and worried he would make me drop the classes.
A few days later I again met with Coach Martelli. This time I stopped by athletic director Don DiJulia's office beforehand to inform him of my decision. I told him I would be applying to grad schools elsewhere. He was very nice and understanding. He wished me the best of luck and said to keep in touch. Relieved that Mr. DiJulia had taken the news well, I went to Coach Martelli's office. I told him that my mind had not changed, and that I planned on enrolling in grad school elsewhere. I recall his words vividly: "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."
"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.”
Head on over to SI.com to read the complete story as told by O'Brien.
As we again stress that O'Brien's narrative is just one side of the story—and told from a young man understandably bitter about being denied a transfer against his wishes—we'll let you be the judge as to who is in the right and wrong after reading his column, and then revisiting the SJU statement in response.
Update (12/19/11 at 10:15 p.m.): Not mentioned in the SI story was this February 2011 report from Dick Jerardi
which mentions O'Brien as being (what seems to be briefly) suspended
from the basketball team after his "peripheral involvement" in an
incident surrounding a stolen laptop that would ultimately result in
then-freshman Patrick Swilling, Jr. leaving the basketball team. Though
the omission of this information in O'Brien's chain of events is surely
convenient, it doesn't seem to have any real import on why the
university would take such a hardline approach to his transfer either.
Update (12/20/11 at 1:21 p.m.): Regardless of how you want to view what happened, both the coach and university are getting pummeled by the national media, and will likely continue to be until the situation is resolved. Martelli has been a plenty divisive figure during his tenure at St. Joseph's, and this story figures only to further the ill-will he has already generated in some quarters. Now even athletic director Dom DiJulia is being taken to task for "hiding" behind the failed appeal of his own decision.
Though St. Joseph's considers the matter "closed," we will be sure to provide updates in the event they become available.
In the meantime, we're going to point you in the direction of the @SethDavisHoops twitter feed. While Seth clearly has his own leanings on the story, he's also done a great job pointing out the absurdity of a student-athlete even needing a release given the rules which govern an institution's ability not to renew scholarships and a coach's ability to leave a program at any time.
This is really just a bad situation all around at the moment, and one that has the feeling that its only going the get worse before it gets better, be it for one or both parties. In that sense, even if they do see themselves as justified in their actions, Martelli, DiJulia and the university might want to rethink their position even if its just to rid themselves of what's quickly becoming a nationally-recognized debacle. Really, it's hard to think of a worse time for this story to come out considering the program is in the middle of a legitimate state of revival. Solely in the interest of having the media refocus on the actual basketball being played, wouldn't they just want to get rid of this and let the kid go?
Again, more if we get it, come across it, or have it brought to our attention.
>>>My Name is Todd O'Brien and I am Getting Shafted by St. Joe's and the NCAA [SI]
This is an updating thread subject to change as further details emerge.