Jarrod Uthoff, Todd O'Brien and Transferring's Ugliness in College Basketball

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Jarrod Uthoff, Todd O'Brien and Transferring's Ugliness in College Basketball
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Todd O'Brien of St. Joe's was denied in his request to transfer to UAB.

Transfers are certainly nothing new in major college basketball.

But thanks to a couple of ugly transfer attempts involving Jarrod Uthoff and Todd O’Brien that made headlines this year, it’s evident that this element of the sport has suddenly headed down one ugly road.

Now the question that must be posed is just how long are we going to stay on this pothole-ridden throughway? Are the incidents involving Uthoff and O’Brien and their embattled coaches—Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and St. Joe’s Phil Martelli, respectively—just isolated or the beginning of a potentially troublesome trend?

Uthoff, a Wisconsin redshirt freshman, was hindered more than usual by Ryan regarding where he could transfer to. Uthoff was restricted from moving to another Big Ten school, which is totally understandable.

As a coach, you don’t want a player you took under your wing burning you as a conference rival. However, Ryan also blocked Uthoff from transferring to any ACC teams, in addition to Marquette, Florida and Iowa State.

Blacklisting Uthoff from a staggering 25 schools created a whirlwind of controversy around Ryan and the Badgers basketball program. Amidst a media backlash, Ryan and Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez eventually allowed Uthoff to transfer to any institution outside of the Big Ten.

Martelli and St. Joe’s received its own harsh backlash this past winter for their blocking of O’Brien’s transfer request. A seldom-used player for the Hawks, O’Brien was attempting to utilize the NCAA’s policy that allows student athletes who have graduated from one school to transfer to another for an additional year of eligibility, as long as they’re taking a graduate course not offered at the university they’re transferring from.

Will we see more ugly transfer incidents like these in the future?

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Of course, the university must grant a waiver for the player to transfer and St. Joe’s didn’t honor O’Brien’s request to transfer to UAB. The reason as to why Martelli blocked O’Brien’s request was never disclosed and maybe never will.

Nevertheless, after several appeals to the NCAA, O’Brien was officially denied in his bid to transfer to UAB late in January. Like I said before, transfers in college basketball are nothing new.

As venerable Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Seth Davis recently pointed out, on average, roughly 40 percent of players switch institutions by the end of their sophomore seasons.

But because the universities hold so much power in these situations (after all, they’re the ones who grant the player’s right to transfer), we’ve seen two ugly examples of the downfall of transfer rules in a matter of a few months.

And the problem is that nobody wins here. Regardless of who has the most power, everyone comes out a loser.

If a coach doesn’t grant a player’s request to transfer, then he comes off as a petty egomaniac. After all, reputable coaches like Ryan and Martelli can switch schools whenever they want without restrictions. So why can’t a player who makes no money?

And if a player decides to pull an Uthoff or O’Brien and up and leave, then he’s seen as spoiled and weak. Coaches spend months recruiting these kids and then some repay them by transferring to other schools.

When I put it that way, it’s easy to see why some fans don’t sympathize with basketball nomads like Uthoff and O’Brien. And if a player (like former Dukie Michael Gbinije) decides to transfer because he’s not getting adequate playing time, then he’s seen as weak by some.

Why can’t he fight through the adversity and earn his playing time like a man?

Fair or not, this is why transferring in college basketball is under such scrutiny these days (and why I’m even writing this particular piece in the first place).

There are going to be instances like the one at Wisconsin and St. Joe’s in the future, and someone will be made out to be the victim and suspect, even if they’re really not. And no matter what the NCAA does, transferring is always going to leave some party brokenhearted. Plus, thanks to the viral firestorm that is social media, certain transfer incidents in the future are going to cause a ruckus where, in the past, they would’ve passed unnoticed.

Would the Uthoff and O’Brien cases have even gained notoriety even ten years ago? I doubt it.   

Something tells me we’re going to be on this ugly highway for quite awhile.

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