St. Joe's & Todd O'Brien: This NCAA Eligibility Sob Story Isn't Adding Up

Geoff RobertsContributor IIIDecember 20, 2011

In the last 24 hours, St Joe’s basketball program has received more national press than they have since they were the No. 1 team in college basketball and the national player of the year graced the Philadelphia campus back in 2004.

Unfortunately the press is not related to St. Joe’s (8-3) fighting their way towards a national ranking or their dunkfest beatdown on Villanova last week.

On Monday, Todd O’Brien, a former St. Joe’s player (also by way of Bucknell) published an article in Sports Illustrated regarding how the NCAA, and St. Joe’s in particular, had “shafted” him by blocking him from playing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham this coming season. The article reads a bit like a sob story, with O’Brien being blocked from pursuing his academic dreams while remaining a STUDENT-athlete.

Before I go any further, here’s some full disclosure—I’m a St. Joe’s grad, I used to cover the men’s basketball team for the school’s student newspaper and I’ve had the, yes, pleasure of speaking with St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli on several occasions. I don’t know Todd O’Brien at all, but I do know one thing—neither Sports Illustrated nor ESPN is presenting us with the full story.

Yes, I say this with my knowledge of Phil Martelli in mind. This guy is everything a college wants its college basketball coach to be, and his impact on the university is hugely positive. He genuinely cares about the well-being of his players, and if you need any proof of this fact speak to any of his former players, many of whom regard the man as something of a father figure.

Phil Martelli is a huge reason why many young players choose St. Joe’s over other schools. In my few conversations with Martelli, he’s been nothing but engaging, humble, passionate and invested in the players on his team. Needless to say, something about this situation smells a little fishy to me.

So, what else do we know? We know that we have a player, O’Brien, who is being blocked from playing basketball…which sucks. We know that Martelli is being stubborn and holding one hell of a grudge for some reason. He called O’Brien “the most disloyal player I’ve ever coached.”

Still, Martelli is a man and can get over player issues or minor squabbles here or there. He’s done it before with far better players than O’Brien, such as Abdulai Jalloh and D.J. Rivera, both of whom brought numerous and severe headaches Martelli’s way. Yet Martelli allowed both players to transfer, granting them the right to play elsewhere.

In O’Brien’s case, Martelli is standing his ground. He’s clearly incensed, and there’s got to be a reason why. What it is, I’m not sure.

O’Brien was supposedly involved in some sort of laptop theft while at St. Joe’s, which is potentially an indication that his image and intentions aren’t as squeaky clean as the claims in his Sports Illustrated article.

My intent here is not to side with Martelli and St. Joe’s over O’Brien—far from it. But while I don’t know O’Brien, I do know St. Joe’s to be fantastic place and Phil Martelli to be a stand-up guy. So before bashing the school for its lack of Jesuit ideals or the coach for holding an unfair grudge, realize that O’Brien’s Sports Illustrated article is presenting only one very biased side of this story.

Geoff Roberts is the Founder and Managing Editor of, a Boston sports blog.