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Sunday, November 13, 2011
Why won't St. Joe's let Todd O'Brien go?

By Dana O'Neil

Todd O’Brien averaged just 7.2 minutes and 1 point per game in his final season at Saint Joseph’s, which would seemingly make O’Brien a strange player to spar over.

Yet the 7-footer is in the middle of a gigantic kerfuffle between the Hawks and UAB.

O’Brien graduated this spring from St. Joe’s, and with one year of eligibility left, decided to transfer and pursue a graduate degree at UAB. He asked St. Joe's to agree to a waiver that would make him eligible immediately.

Except St. Joe’s won’t agree to the waiver, a source told ESPN.com, and though the NCAA could overrule, it has chosen not to.

"[The NCAA] didn't give a reason, but I don't think they want to do it without the school's rubber stamp,'' the source said.

In October, the NCAA denied the waiver; now O’Brien pleads his case to a five-person appeals committee.

So why won’t St. Joseph's let him go? That’s the million-dollar question.

Hawks coach Phil Martelli told ESPN.com that everything "was in the hands of the NCAA" and that the entire situation "hasn’t been on our radar for months."

But when reminded that if St. Joe’s would merely agree, this likely wouldn’t be an NCAA issue, Martelli admitted that the university had, in fact, refused to sign off on the waiver.

Asked why, Martelli said, “I probably wouldn’t say anything about that.’’

The source said that the university did grant O’Brien the chance to speak with other schools this summer, “so what did they think was going to happen?,’’ the source added.

According to a report in the Birmingham News, O’Brien has retained lawyer Don Jackson, who represented Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney in his case with the NCAA.

“When I get a case like this, it really rubs the wrong way,’’ Jackson told the newspaper, pointing out that Martelli is chair of the NCAA’s ethics committee. “You hear all the discussion about college athletics and the importance of academics. This young man has graduated and has now enrolled in graduate school at a great university with another year of athletic eligibility. And now you have a coach 1,000 miles away trying to prevent him from playing.’’

O’Brien enrolled at UAB in the fall and has been practicing with the Blazers.

Will he get to compete in games?

Stay tuned.