Life isn’t fair especially for student-athletes. They’re the 99% to the NCAA’s 1% in a collegiate Wall Street paved with a mix of turf, hardwood, dollar bills and artificial grass. While 70,000-seat stadiums are built on the blood, sweat and tears of the athletes, those same athletes have an earning potential capped at $0. God forbid they try bartering their own jerseys for cash.
The NCAA graduate exception is one of the few NCAA bylaws that benefits student-athletes. At least it’s designed to appear that way. The rule allows students who have earned an undergraduate degree to transfer to another school, enroll as graduate students, and play right away as long as they have remaining eligibility. The new school must also offers a graduate area of study his old school doesn’t have.
Last month, Todd O’Brien, a reserve seven-footer for the St. Joseph Hawks. met all these stipulations when he transferred to the University of Alabama-Birmingham. O’Brien’s predicament as he remains trapped between two schools highlights the gross disparity in equality for collegiate athletes and collegiate coaches and universities. If you haven’t heard of Todd O’Brien, download this information to your Cerebral Sportex.
After earning his undergraduate degree in the spring of 2011, O’Brien sought a transfer to another school where he could begin pursuit of his graduate degree. After informing St Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli of his intentions to transfer to UAB, Martelli refused to release O’Brien from his scholarship. Despite repeatedly requesting St. Joseph’s release him from his St. Joseph’s scholarship so that he could play his senior season at UAB, Martelli vehemently refused. meaning he can practice while attending classes but cannot suit up for the UAB Blazers. O’Brien went so far as to appeal to the NCAA but was ultimately denied.
They say college is the best four years of your life but for student-athletes, their coaches are the one who get to have all the fun. Athletic scholarships are only offered on a one-year basis and the practice of over signing is an example of the system that can screw student-athletes.
Particularly in college football, many coaches regularly sign more student-athletes than they have available scholarships and leave kids out in the cold. Just ask LSU’s Elliot Porter. After committing to LSU before his senior season. In August before his freshman season, Porter was stripped of his scholarship, moved out of the dorm and joined the team as a walk-on, meaning he would have to pay his own way.
Meanwhile, if an athlete does make the decision to transfer, he or she has to sit out an entire year of competition. Even if they’ve graduated, which is true in O’Brien’s circumstance coaches can stipulate which schools they’ll release a player to or whether they’ll release them at all. There’s no top ten list of schools that a player is forbidden to play for and it may be a list as long as they desire.
Conversely, there are very few rules that govern the movement of collegiate coaches. Kentucky’s John Calipari has left two schools in the shadow of NCAA sanctions and violations while he skipped town for greener pastures.

After saddling Oklahoma with a bevy of crippling NCAA violations, Kelvin Sampson ditched the Sooners for the Indiana Hoosiers. While under NCAA sanctions, Sampson violated the same NCAA impermissible calls rules and essentially ended his collegiate coaching career.
Last week, Tennessee Vols receiver DeAnthony Arnett announced his intentions to transfer to a school where he could be closer to his ailing father who has undergone two surgeries including one for his heart. Dooley’s said he would only release Arnett to the state’s low-major, Mid-American conference schools.
Dooley finally succumbed to public pressure and DeAnthony Arnett transferred to Tennessee. However, Arnett’s saga should never have gotten that far. Coaches are assigned to be four-year father-like figures to their players but instead they exercise dictatorships over their programs.
The NCAA may have had good intentions when it conceived full scholarships in 1952 but as college football has become a billion-dollar business, coaches have become ruthless CEO’s. The NCAA won’t be paying any percentage of their revenue to student-athletes anytime soon but they can make progress by stripping coaches of the exorbitant power they abuse and handing it back the the athletes.
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