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As he strode onto the practice field at Stony Brook University for the first scrimmage of his final collegiate season, Harvard senior wide receiver Kyle Cremarosa knew that the window on his football career was slowly beginning to close. He would only later realize that it was about to be slammed shut.
Cremarosa—then tentatively penciled in as a starter on the depth charts—sustained a broken leg during the intrasquad match-up that required corrective surgery, ending not only his season but, he was told, his playing career as well.
Now, unwilling to accept a season on the sidelines as his final one among the Crimson’s ranks, Cremarosa has begun a petition campaign in the hopes of gaining an additional year of eligibility.
Under normal circumstances, Cremarosa’s break and ensuing surgery would have been a setback, not the end of the road. Ivy League guidelines permit student-athletes to sit out a full season while maintaining their four years of eligibility in cases of injury so long as the “red-shirts,” as the sidelined players are called, compete only within a five-year period in accordance with a similar NCAA guideline that gives students a five-year window in which to compete.
Next year would be Cremarosa’s sixth season.
Although he was not previously a red-shirt candidate, the fifth-year senior missed what originally would have been his junior season in 2001 when asked to take a year away from the college because of academic difficulties.
“I was attempting to be a computer science concentrator but just got hammered in my first semester of C.S.,” he said. “My grades were greatly affected, resulting in an unsatisfactory semester. So that’s what makes my circumstance a little different. I took a year off from school, but it still counted as a season athletically when I returned.”
Despite the blanket restriction, Cremarosa began to explore his options just days after learning his season was certainly over.
“After my surgery, while still in the hospital, I talked to Sheri Norred [Harvard’s Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance] about coming back for another year,” Cremarosa said, “and she told me that it would not be possible for me to come back since this is my fifth year and the Ivy League [and NCAA] only give you five years to compete.”
Initially, that answer, while disappointing, was enough to convince Cremarosa that all potential avenues had been explored. But as the season unfolded with him on the sidelines, the itch to play again returned with a little prodding from Dick Emerson, the head athletic trainer, and others helping his rehabilitation. With the return of that desire, Cremarosa began exploring possible means to attain that end.
“I tried to convince myself that I was okay with not coming back,” Cremarosa said. “But towards the end of the season I realized that I at least needed to try for the extra season.”
Cremarosa once again sought out Norred and Director of Compliance Nathan Fry’s assistance in pursuing the matter. If the pair were to establish an argument based on NCAA guidelines, the matter would then be passed on to Associate Dean of the College Thomas A. Dingman ’67.
But that transfer has been slow in coming.
“Any student who is seeking an exception to the ordinary athletic policies would normally go through my office,” Dingman said. “For the majority of these cases, I am in touch with the Ivy League offices in Princeton, N.J., but I have not been involved in this case.”
That fact is not entirely surprising, according to Caroline Campbell-McGovern, Compliance Assistant with the Ivy League offices.
“There’s already one season essentially built in to allow for an injury,” Campbell-McGovern said. “In order to get a sixth year, you’d have to have two seasons where there have been extenuating circumstances completely out of the control of the athlete in order to get an extra year on your clock.”
Since failure to meet academic criteria established by the athlete’s school is not outside of an individual’s control, Cremarosa’s request will likely be rejected by staff at the NCAA office, Campbell-McGovern said, unless he and his representatives from Harvard can establish a compelling reason why he ought to be extended the exception.
“I feel that I was punished and already served my time for my academic mistake,” Cremarosa said. “This serious injury that I sustained is something I believe merits a red-shirt year.”
So while Harvard’s compliance officers attempt to uncover such a compelling reason based on precedent, Cremarosa has taken his message directly to the Harvard student body and, he hopes, the individuals who will soon decide his case.
“The idea for the petition was just a way for me to get my voice and the voices of those who support me heard,” Cremarosa said. “Since the Harvard compliance people are the ones who deal with the Ivy League office on my behalf, I wanted to use the petition to show the Ivy League office how serious I am about this and how important it is to me.”
After making a plea to his housemates over the Cabot open-list, Cremarosa collected over 260 signatures through his online initiative. But after learning that the chances of success were still “slim,” he has now decided to rededicate his efforts towards gaining the support of high-level members of the College’s administration in the hopes that they will wield greater influence over those in a position to rule on his case.
“[Fry] informed me that my petition would probably not do any good unless it was signed by ‘important’ people such as the university president,” Cremarosa said. “So my revised plan is to get the signatures of these important people, like [Harvard President] Larry Summers and our athletic director, Bob Scalise.”
Still, even Summers’ backing would probably not be enough to win Cremarosa another year.
“I don’t think the NCAA is going to factor that into its decision,” Campbell-McGovern said. “It would be a competitive advantage for Harvard to allow a student to have this additional year. The fact that Harvard wants it doesn’t really matter to the NCAA.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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