Todd O'Brien's last waiver appeal is denied

January, 19, 2012
Saint Joseph's has finally won. It's over. Todd O'Brien won't play college basketball this season for UAB.

O'Brien lost his last waiver appeal to play immediately at UAB after the NCAA sent an email to the Blazers late Wednesday night, when they were playing at Rice. O'Brien's last-ditch effort was snuffed.

O'Brien said he found out when he checked his email in Birmingham before going to bed late Wednesday.

"I don't know why this happened,'' O'Brien said Thursday afternoon. "I'm mad. It's so stupid. It's so petty.''

The Hawks and coach Phil Martelli won here. But they lost mightily in the court of public opinion. The school and Martelli haven't given one reason why they wouldn't endorse a waiver for O'Brien to play immediately. As a result, they've taken a public relations hit that is immeasurable.

Martelli, who is on an NCAA coaching ethics committee, was once one of the most quotable and affable coaches in the country. Now no one calls for his opinion. He's been silent unless he is talking about his team and the upcoming game.

Saint Joseph's spokesperson Marie Wozniak said last week that this was an institutional decision, not a yes or no box that Martelli chose to check. Saint Joseph's athletic director Don DiJulia said last month that there was another side to the story, but couldn't speak on the matter due to privacy laws. Martelli hasn't returned any calls and didn't again on Thursday.

An NCAA spokesperson said after the appeal was initially denied, Saint Joseph's refusal to endorse O'Brien's waiver did have an effect. The waiver rule has been controversial but hasn't had any real denials of late. If a player graduates from one school, he or she can pursue a waiver to play immediately so that they can be in grad school in a major that wasn't at the previous school.

One example was Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was kicked off the Ducks, graduated and was given clearance to play immediately at Ole Miss.

"I didn't get kicked off,'' O'Brien said. "I told Don DiJulia that I wanted to go to grad school. He understood. He was real cool. He said we'll take care of all the paperwork.''

O'Brien, who was a marginal role player for the Hawks and wouldn't count against Saint Joe's APR because he would leave as a graduate in good standing, said he never signed his financial aid for the fall. Yet, he said he was put on the list. He had signed up for summer classes.

"I offered to pay for them,'' O'Brien said. "I think if I would have told him earlier that I was going to leave he would have done something not to let me leave. He said he was going to sue me.''

O'Brien said he doesn't understand why they had renewed his financial aid for the fall. But he said he never signed the fall scholarship paper.

He has been practicing with the Blazers and taking classes in public administration with a focus in community development. He is the equivalent of a redshirt who won't ever play.

"It's unbelievable,'' said UAB coach Mike Davis. "He's a good kid. He's really a good kid. He would start for us. I know a professor here wrote a letter for him. We couldn't believe it was denied.''

Davis said he has never spoken to Martelli about the matter and doesn't plan on doing so.

"Saint Joe's isn't going to budge,'' Davis said. "It's such a shame.''

O'Brien wasn't without sin at Saint Joseph's. He was allegedly involved in a stolen laptop incident last season. O'Brien was disciplined at the time for his role in it. But that would seem to matter little in the denial of a waiver since UAB doesn't compete against Saint Joe's.

"I didn't play much; it wasn't like they needed me,'' said the 7-foot O'Brien, who averaged 7.2 minutes a game in 23 of the team's 33 games last season. O'Brien tallied just 1 point per game to go along with 1.3 rebounds.

O'Brien said he will meet with his attorney, Don Jackson of Montgomery, Ala., and decide if there is another course for legal action. In the interim, Davis said O'Brien will continue to practice and work out. O'Brien said Davis would help him try to play overseas, too, if he can in some form.

Saint Joseph's is 2-3 in the A-10 and 12-7 overall without O'Brien. UAB is 1-3 in Conference USA, 6-11 overall. He may not have made a difference in either team's record. But that's not the point. He never had a chance to make a dent for UAB.

"If they would [endorse the waiver], I could play tomorrow," O'Brien said of Saint Joe's.

But the Hawks won't budge and as a result there are really three losers here: O'Brien's last college season, UAB's depth at center and, of course, the Hawks' and Martelli's public perception in the sport.

It appears the first two can't be retrieved. It may be difficult to change the last one, too.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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