IF THEY GOT a chance to start over again, the sides in the Todd O'Brien/Saint Joseph's saga might consider a different journey to the current standoff. Both sides have done and said things they probably wish they could take back. Once O'Brien's narrative about what he perceives St. Joe's and coach Phil Martelli have done to hurt his basketball career was dropped on SI.com Monday afternoon, we may have reached the point of no return.
If you are just joining this, O'Brien, now a graduate student who would like to play basketball at UAB this season, was at St. Joe's for three seasons after one season at Bucknell. He sat out one season as a transfer.
O'Brien went from a starter in his first season at SJU to deep bench player last season. Realizing he wasn't going to play much this season, O'Brien assessed his options this summer. In mid-July, he told Martelli he wanted to attend a new school this season as a graduate student. Under an NCAA rule, O'Brien would be eligible to play immediately if his new school offered a graduate degree that St. Joe's did not. Eventually, O'Brien chose UAB.
The St. Joe's administration decided it did not want to support O'Brien's request for a waiver to play immediately. The NCAA also chose not to approve the waiver. An appeal of that decision this fall was also denied. So, O'Brien is at UAB practicing with the team, but can't play.
Other than a statement released yesterday by St. Joe's president John Smithson, nobody at the school is permitted to talk publicly about the situation.
When you talk to people about it, however, it is clear that, among other things, St. Joe's officials were not happy about the timing of O'Brien's decision, because it came as a surprise barely a month before fall semester was going to begin, and they felt certain he was doing it for athletic and not academic reasons.
So, on principle, St. Joe's felt it could not support the waiver. The NCAA, however, still could have supported it. It has chosen not to.
"It is worth noting that SJU has supported such requests a large majority of the time across its many varsity sports," Smithson said in the statement.
Clearly, the administration was not pleased with how O'Brien handled it. O'Brien obviously was not going to play much for SJU, so it was not about that.
"I appealed the NCAA's decision and I hired an attorney," O'Brien wrote in the SI.com story. "Though I hoped that I could get the NCAA to change their decision, I knew that the easiest way to solve the problem would be to work things out with St. Joe's."
It never could be worked out. As it got toward the start of the season, feelings had become entrenched on both sides.
Once it became clear that accusations could ensue (such as those in the SI.com story), the reasonable alternative probably was for SJU to help O'Brien get his waiver to play at UAB, so everybody could move on with their lives, regardless of the principle involved. Sometimes, you have to ask yourselves: Is being right on the letter of the law really worth it?
It is like the aggrieved driver who gets cut off by somebody he will never see again. Why not just let it go?
You also wonder, if the NCAA really wants to help its athletes, why it even has this waiver process. If a player has graduated and wants to play at another school with a unique graduate degree, why not just let him do it on his own?
O'Brien, of course, just could have gone to Division II Philadelphia University or any school outside D-I and been able to play immediately, without a waiver.