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Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's Are Taking a Pounding Over Todd O'Brien. Will the Hawks Tell Their Side of the Story?


O’Brien spent one year at Bucknell, transferred to St. Joe’s and sat out (as required by the NCAA) one season. Then he started 28 games during the 09-10 campaign. Last season (his senior year academically; his junior year as a player), O’Brien fell out of the playing rotation mix. Academically he was fine, graduating on time and he even did an internship. But he still had one season of basketball eligibility left, and seeing that he wasn’t going to play at St. Joe’s, he tried to transfer. He decided on UAB, which has a grad school program that was a perfect fit for what he studied at St. Joe’s. The only problem: Hawks’ coach Phil Martelli refused to sign the waiver granting him the opportunity to play at UAB.

What looks terrible for St. Joseph’s is that O’Brien says the school’s AD was fine with signing the waiver transfer. But Martelli denied him. Initially, I was outraged. Why would Martelli be such a jerk? If he’s not going to play the kid, why not let him go somewhere else? St. Joseph’s released a statement late Monday, but didn’t say much. I thought that was a mistake, because the longer this festers, the more opportunity it has to reach recruits and do some damage in recruiting. The school’s interim President released a longer statement. St. Joseph’s seems to be taking a hard line stance here that it won’t be pressured into doing anything.

Then a reporter tipped me off that there’s more to the story.

It begins here. From February:

Shortly before Wednesday’s game against Xavier, the school issued a release that said Swilling was out, “due to a violation of the university’s student code of conduct.” A university source said Swilling was involved in the possession of a laptop that had been returned to its true owner. Junior Todd O’Brien also did not play against Xavier. The same release said O’Brien was out, “due to a failure to comply with the university’s community standards.” O’Brien was apparently peripherally involved with the laptop situation and after the fact. He did not play yesterday against Temple, but it is expected that his part in the university process will end today and he will be back practicing with the team shortly, maybe even today.

How is someone “peripherally involved?” Was O’Brien simply aware of the situation? Did he partake in a cover up? What exactly happened? And should O’Brien have clarified what happened when writing for Lots of questions remain, but it’s unclear whether we’ll ever get the answers. St. Joseph’s probably will just wait this out. Will anyone be talking about this in 24 hours? Christmas is a few days away, the NBA season is about to begin, the NFL weekend has a gigantic weekend ahead, the flood of bowl games begins soon … the Hawks’ will be off everyone’s radar. Short of Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas forcing the issue on TV, the story (sadly), is about to just go away.

The only problem I see is if St. Joe’s makes the NCAA tournament. It could certainly happen (8-3 with early quality wins over Georgia Tech, Creighton and Villanova, plus a big game ahead against Harvard). It’ll be tough to ignore the story in that scenario.

I’d also like to point out this exchange on twitter between Joe Lunardi of ESPN (he teaches at St. Joe’s) and Jay Bilas of ESPN (who has railed against the school for its decision). Here’s what Andy Katz, who has a cozy relationship with Martelli, had to say on the subject.