Phil Martelli needs to grant Todd O’Brien his release, then a rule change should be made

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I think Phil Martelli is being a jerk.

Plain and simple.

Because as far as I’m concerned, that’s the only reason for Martelli to deny Todd O’Brien his release to play at St. Joseph’s. In case you missed it yesterday, O’Brien submitted 2,000 words to SI.com on Monday afternoon explaining why and how he has been wronged by St. Joe’s and Martelli.

In short, O’Brien — who has finished his undergraduate degree — transferred to UAB after staying on scholarship to graduate during this past summer. The graduate program he enrolled in is not offered at St. Joe’s, which means that, if he was granted his release by St. Joe’s, O’Brien wouldn’t be forced to sit out a season. Since he has already transferred once in his hoops career, O’Brien doesn’t have a redshirt year. In other words, St. Joe’s is ending his basketball career for him. Its damning stuff, and at face value it seems as if Martelli and the St. Joe’s athletic department are acting in a spiteful and malicious manner.

But as we all know, there are two sides to every story, and due to university privacy laws, we probably will never know the other side. What we do know is that O’Brien was involved in the theft of a laptop that resulted in him getting suspended and a teammate getting booted from the team. What we are told by message board commenters and the St. Joe’s twitterati is that O’Brien was a train wreck in his two seasons on Hawk Hill, but those sources are about as credible as Jason Whitlock’s twitter feed. What we were told by O’Brien himself is that he wasn’t completely forthcoming with St. Joe’s about why he wanted to finish his undergraduate classes over the summer, allowing the school to pay for them before he left for UAB.

Most importantly, however, what we can assume is that Martelli has what he believes to be a very legitimate reason to not allow O’Brien to play this season.

How do we know that?

Because despite the mountains of negative press and clear-cut recruiting issues that will arise out of this story, Martelli has yet to back down. And when I say mountains of press, I mean mountains of press. He’s doing TV interviews and Q-and-A’s with bloggers and even did a podcast with Matt Norlander of CBS Sports. Its a full-blown media circus, and for each set of eye balls that reads or watches a story on the Todd O’Brien, the shame on the St. Joe’s program and the pressure to reverse their decision grows.

And still nothing.

Which, frankly, is the wrong decision. At this point, Phil, you just gotta let it go, bro. Because right now you look exactly like a jilted lover. You all know what I’m talking about. We’ve all dated that person, the guy or girl that, when the relationship ends, refuses to move on, drunkenly leaves crying voicemails at 4am and refuses to return the shoes, belt and watch that you left at their house.

No one likes that person, Phil, and no one should want to be that person.

So let it go, Phil. Give Todd his release. Move on and focus on the team you have this season, the one that actually has a chance to be pretty damn good. You’ve coming off of wins against Creighton and Villanova at home. This should be a high point in your season, a week where there will be plenty of distraction with the holidays coming. I’m sure the questions they are going to get about this situation at every press conference is really going to help them focus on basketball.

Even if your girlfriend cheats on you and breaks up with you for your best friend, you probably shouldn’t slash the tires of her car or throw a brick through her bay window. And even if O’Brien conned Martelli out of scholarship money for his summer classes and took advantage of his coach covering up his involvement in a stolen laptop, Martelli shouldn’t keep the kid from playing his final season of college hoops.

There is a bigger issue at play here, however.

The problem isn’t simply that Martelli refuses to grant O’Brien his release. The unfairness lies in the fact that a head coach can wield that kind of power over a player’s future.

The fallacy that the NCAA preaches to us time and time again is that these athletes are supposed to be students first and athletes second, correct? Todd O’Brien earned an undergraduate degree. He wanted to pursue a graduate degree in a program that was offered by UAB and wasn’t offered by St. Joe’s. His goal was to further his education and continue to play sports at the collegiate level.

And just because Phil Martelli feels betrayed, he can block that?

How is that, in any way, shape or form, what the NCAA preaches when they say these kids are students first and athletes second?

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. Just last summer, Sean Kowal lost his senior season when he tried to transfer out of Northern Illinois to pursue a graduate degree in theology and got caught up in the NCAA’s web of red tape. And while Kowal’s situation had two sides as well — he wasn’t completely forthright with NIU when he tried to receive his release — it doesn’t change the fact that allowing college coaches to hold their players hostage is hypocritical and utterly unfair.

Those same coaches can change jobs any time they want to, without any punishment from the NCAA and without the requirement of even having to tell their players personally. If Phil Martelli so desired, he could leave St. Joseph’s right now to take any available collegiate coaching position and start tomorrow. But one of his former players decided to go elsewhere for his final year of eligibility, and Martelli is able to take that away from him simply because he’s pissed?

That’s wrong.

Let’s flip this thing around.

What if we gave players the right to grant a coach a release?

Seriously. What if a coach had to get a majority vote from his team to allow him to get a release to take a different head coaching position? What are the odds that rule would fly? 10 billion-to-1?

Martelli may be completely justified in his decision to deny O’Brien the right to transfer.

But whether he is right or wrong doesn’t matter.

The fact that coaches are afforded the ability to hold players hostage like this is a travesty. And its a rule that needs to change. Yesterday.