The staredown between Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli and former Hawks center Todd O'Brien -- an SJU graduate who transferred to UAB but hasn't been allowed to play -- is being lost by both people. That's fairly clear. O'Brien is losing his final season. Martelli is losing the public relations fight. Why Martelli is doing what he's doing, we don't know.
But here's something that seems indisputable:
Going forward, the NCAA can -- and should -- make sure this doesn't happen again. And it would be so easy, too. So easy, and so fair. It would take the decision out of a coach's hands, even a coach who (clearly) feels he is justified in playing such hardball with a former player.
I'm not here to backtrack on what I wrote a few days ago about this. I'm not here to rehash it and defend that position all over again, either. I wrote it, I stand by it, and if you want to know why I still stand by it, read that story again.
But the NCAA's rule should be altered, dramatically, to reflect the real world. The real world being this:
Anybody who does what Todd O'Brien has done -- graduates from college with eligibility remaining -- shouldn't need anyone's permission to play somewhere else.
Again, make no mistake: I'm not saying Martelli is wrong here. NCAA rules allow him to decide whether to release a graduated player to transfer and play somewhere else, and he made the decision not to release O'Brien. Why? I have no idea, but he has his reasons for playing hardball with O'Brien, and without knowing those reasons, I'm not going to do the easy thing and scream that Martelli is wrong.
Is he wrong? Again -- I have no idea.
But I know the NCAA rule is wrong.
A college graduate is an achiever, a winner. More importantly, a college graduate is an adult who has fulfilled the obligations asked of him -- that being, to honor his scholarship by graduating.
The next Todd O'Brien who graduates with eligibility remaining shouldn't have to ask for Daddy Coach's permission to transfer. He should be able to tell the coach, the school and the NCAA that he has fulfilled his obligation, he has graduated, and since he has eligibility remaining, he's going to spend that eligibility somewhere else.
I mean, isn't that sensible and fair? I'm trying to find a hole in my proposed rule change, and the only one I can come up with is this: It could, in some folks' eyes, open the door to younger players who want to transfer. If the NCAA says that a college graduate should be free to transfer with no penalty incurred and no release needed, what's to stop a sophomore who is on track to graduate from making the same demand?
I could be snarky here and say, "Nothing should stop a college sophomore in good academic standing from being able to transfer wherever he wants and play right away." And honestly, there are days I believe that to be true.
But this isn't the day for that argument, and I'm not concerned about the slippery slope that might be created for underclassmen by allowing the next Todd O'Brien to do as he damn well pleases after he graduates.
The NCAA could make this very simple by making the rule very clear: If you've graduated college, and you have eligibility remaining, you're a free agent. You've done everything asked of you, so here's your reward: Free agency. Go play wherever you want, assuming you're wanted there in return. You've earned the freedom to choose. Go.
Underclassmen? This rule isn't about you, but it's for you as well. Because if the day comes that you've graduated -- with eligibility remaining -- you too would be free to transfer.
Obvious, right? Fair, too.
Of course it'll never happen. It just makes too damn much sense.