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Robert Orr, lawyer representing Orlando Sanchez, speaks on eligibility case

Sanchez' representation believes the case should be resolved by March.

Tim Dimas

When Steve Lavin called Robert Orr, former Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, about a month ago, he was looking for help in a strenuous process that has hovered over the St. John's program all season.

On Saturday morning, Orr discussed the controversial case of Orlando Sanchez' ineligibility with the media. He alluded to the good graces of St. John's and the lack of a waiver of legislation that would ultimately grant the Dominican forward an extra year of eligibility.

"The bottom line is that, at a minimum, a waiver of legislation should have been granted," Orr said. "This simply comes down to doing the right thing. Orlando has been deprived of his ability to be a Division I basketball player at St. John's."

It has become known, as first reported by the New York Times on Friday night, that Sanchez was deemed ineligible to utilize what he had perceived to be his "missing" year of eligibility because of three minutes and thirty-eight seconds played in a game for the Dominican Republic national team in mop up time of a game that took place in July of 2010.

The NCAA deemed Sanchez a violator of its 21st birthday rule, which stipulates that if an athlete participates in organized competition after turning 21 years-old and before enrolling in college, he or she automatically loses a year of eligibility no matter the amount of time played.

The rule attempts to prevent athletes from gaining an unfair advantage in training before becoming a collegiate athlete.

In a matter of months in 2010, playing in one game for the Dominican national team and enrolling at Monroe College cost Sanchez two of his four years of eligibility. A second year at Monroe and eight games played for a club team back home in the Dominican Republic comprise of the other two years.

But St. John's hired Orr to represent Sanchez in recent weeks, in hopes of salvaging the 6-foot-9 forward's chances of playing at St. John's next season. They sought to extend perceived valid case that would illuminate the hardships that Sanchez experienced earlier in life.

Now, St. John's and Orr expect to have the case with the NCAA resolved, in one way or another, sometime in March.

"The first criteria is that there has to be an event outside of the control of the player," Orr continued. "There were specific events that kept Orlando from finishing high school. His grandmother couldn't provide for him, so he moved to Spain."

Clearly, Sanchez' situation is not something that is often dealt with. In fact, the 21st birthday rule is so rarely seen that most high Division I coaches have had no experience with it.

Despite not getting the opportunity to play at St. John's this season, Sanchez has maintained academic standing and is moving closer to obtaining his degree.

"Orlando's situation is unique. He's done nothing wrong," Orr said. "He's done everything you want a young person to do."

Robert Orr has dealt with a number of cases involving the NCAA, including that of Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA and football player Devin Ramsay from the University of North Carolina.

If Sanchez' case seems to be so clear cut, why has the process been so drawn out?

"The NCAA didn't think that there was a specific event," Orr continued. "Our position is that Orlando was a minor living with his grandmother and had to move to Spain. This was completely out of his control."

Orr mentions that, if the verdict isn't reached in a timely manner, he has not been instructed by St. John's to take the case with the NCAA to court. In the best interest of Orlando Sanchez, Orr would rather avoid the inefficiencies of the judicial process.

Sanchez has taken part in every practice and meeting with St. John's this season. If he were to be ruled eligible for next season, the acclimation to Lavin's system and his Red Storm teammates would be relatively pain-free.

"This is a great young man that is being shafted by a bad rule being improperly applied," Orr mentioned. "Here is the opportunity to do something right."

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