Brian Cusworth’s season has officially ended before it began.
The Harvard men’s basketball team’s sophomore center—who has missed the first 15 games of the season with a stress fracture of the navicular in his right foot—has ended any hopes of a comeback and decided to leave school for the spring semester.
The decision allows Cusworth to seek a Medical Hardship Waiver, which would enable him to extend his eligibility through the 2006-2007 school year.
According to Cusworth, his doctors recommended that he sit out this season rather than try to rush back.
Even if Cusworth were healthy enough to return toward the end of the season, it would take time for him to return to playing condition.
“My contribution to the team wouldn’t be that much either way,” Cusworth said.
According to Harvard’s Student-Athlete Handbook, Medical Hardship Waivers are granted in cases in which the player suffers an incapacitating injury or illness and three conditions apply: the injury or illness occurs during one of the player’s four seasons of competition, it occurs prior to the completion of the first half of the regular season and it occurs before the player has played more than two events or 20 percent of the total number of contests actually played during the season, whichever is greater.
Cusworth was diagnosed with the injury early in November, before the season began, and has not played at all this season.
The waiver also cannot be used if the athlete has competed in any game during the second half of the season, according to the Handbook.
While the Handbook says that the waiver is not automatic, both Harvard director of compliance Nathan Fry and Senior Associate Director of the Ivy League Carolyn Campbell-McGovern said that Medical Hardship Waivers are granted anytime the appropriate conditions are met.
Even with the Medical Hardship Waiver, Ivy League rules restricting students to eight semesters, unless there is an academic need for a ninth, would likely limit Cusworth to remaining on campus—and thus competing—for just one semester of the 2006-2007 school year.
“The Ivy League does not permit student-athletes to extend their stay at Harvard beyond 8 terms for athletic reasons,” the Handbook says. Instead, the student “must have a valid academic reason” to do so.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m not qualified [for a ninth semester],” Cusworth said. “If something [happens] where the ninth semester works out, I’d obviously jump on that, but I’m not going to try to bend any rules.”
By taking this spring off, Cusworth saves a semester for the 2006-2007 school year.
Under the current academic calendar, Harvard traditionally plays the majority of its games during the fall semester, but the bulk of its Ivy League schedule during the spring semester. It is unclear during which semester Cusworth would participate.
Cusworth could also have considered using his extra year of eligibility as a graduate student at a Division II or Division III institution, but decided not to because of his ties to his teammates.
“I felt like I committed to the program early on, so I wanted to stick with my teammates.”
Cusworth also cited level of play as a reason for remaining at Harvard. Graduate students are prohibited by the NCAA from competing in Division I basketball.
Cusworth plans to spend the spring at home in St. Louis and said that the situation could prove to be a “blessing in disguise,” since it will allow him to start preparing for next season earlier than usual.
Having lost five senior starters from last year’s squad, the Crimson was expected to depend heavily on Cusworth—its leading returning scorer and rebounder—this season. But with the seven-footer out, Harvard has sputtered to a 2-13 record while battling a lack of frontcourt depth and at times struggling to contain its opponents’ big men.
Cusworth’s absence has forced 6’4 sophomore Zach Martin—a natural small forward—to spend most of his time at power forward and has increased Harvard’s reliance on junior Graham Beatty and sophomore Luke McCrone.
The Crimson has lost six games by six points or fewer, including a 101-95 overtime loss to Rider Dec. 22.
“You have to look at a guy like Brian and say, ‘He’s worth a couple of points there and he’s worth a couple rebounds there and he’s worth a couple blocked shots in any game that he plays,’ but I think it minimizes work that the guys have put in for us,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said.
Sophomore power forward Matt Stehle, especially, has enjoyed something of a breakout season in Cusworth’s absence. Stehle ranks 10th in the Ivy League in scoring (12.7 ppg), seventh in rebounding (5.6 rpg), third in field-goal percentage (.519), seventh in free-throw percentage (.783) and second in blocks (1.60 bpg) and is tied for sixth in the conference in steals (1.47 spg).
According to the Crimson players, Cusworth’s decision should not be a major blow to the team, since they have been playing without him all season.
“It doesn’t change the mentality of the team at all,” Stehle said. “We’re going to continue to fight. Just because he’s not around doesn’t mean we’re going to give up.”
—Staff writer Alan G. Ginsberg can be reached at email@example.com.