ESPN is reporting that Todd O’Brien’s final appeal in his waiver request was denied by the NCAA. Andy Katz writes, “Saint Joseph’s has finally won. It’s over. Todd O’Brien won’t play college basketball this season for UAB.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with O’Brien’s story, see my post Todd O’Brien Denied Release By St. Joseph’s.
The O’Brien case clearly demonstrates the type of reform that NCAA President Mark Emmert should be advocating. In an interview with ESPN The Magazine’s Seth Wickersham, Emmert discussed his views on reforming the NCAA rule book:
You’ll see a significant change in the rulebooks, away from a lot of the picayune, largely irrelevant, largely unenforceable components of the rulebook and an emphasis on the real threats to the integrity of sports. I always say the things our mothers taught us. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal.
That which is preventing Todd O’Brien from playing basketball for UAB is nothing if not picayune; nothing if not petty and has absolutely nothing to do with any threats to the integrity of sports. O’Brien graduated from St. Joseph’s. He fulfilled the commitment required by his scholarship, which under current NCAA rules is a one-year obligation. So why does O’Brien need permission from St. Joseph’s to play at UAB? Because the NCAA’s rule requires it.
At its core, the NCAA’s rule regarding graduate transfers provides opportunities for many student-athletes to transfer to another school for their last year of eligibility. The rule worked for Greg Paulus when he decided to play football at Syracuse after his Duke basketball career ended; it worked for Russell Wilson this year, whose NFL draft stock has likely risen with his play for Wisconsin; and it may work for Dayne Crist, who never got an extended opportunity at Notre Dame but should be the starter at Kansas. Bottom line, the spirit of the rule is good.
But the devil is in the details, as the rule allows for the student-athlete’s former coach and or school to withhold permission to compete at the new school. St. Joseph’s has refused comment as to why it has withheld consent O’Brien’s transfer to UAB, citing privacy laws, despite O’Brien’s offer to agree to release the information. O’Brien may not have an unblemished record (he was suspended for an incident involving the theft of a laptop at St. Joseph’s) and we’ll never know what exactly happened at St. Joseph’s. But none of these details matter. Whether St. Joseph’s is right or wrong, the school and its coach should not have the final say. Any student-athlete who has graduated and fulfilled their contractual obligations to a school should not be limited from pursuing other opportunities.
I see two ways to reform this rule: (1) eliminate the consent requirement; or (2) require schools that refuse to provide consent to maintain a roster spot, a scholarship, and an open invitation to return for the student-athlete. The status quo, however, is unacceptable. I hope that Mark Emmert agrees.