Harvard Falls an Athlete Short

By John Feinstein
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Senior night has become a tradition in college basketball. Throughout February and March, teams honor their seniors during their final home games and, more often than not, include their families in the ceremony.

This season, one school will have two senior nights: Harvard.

When the Crimson plays its final home game Feb. 24 against Princeton, all their seniors will be honored -- except for Brian Cusworth.

Cusworth's senior night was eight days ago, when Harvard beat Brown, 92-88, at Lavietes Pavilion. Cusworth scored 19 points and had six rebounds in his final college game and was voted Ivy League player of the week. This weekend, while Harvard played games against Columbia and Cornell, Cusworth, a 7-foot center with a soft shooting touch, was home in St. Louis, planning to follow the games as best he could on his computer.

"I can't even begin to tell you how frustrating this has been," he said shortly before Harvard played Columbia on Friday. "All I wanted to do was play four full years of college basketball. I tried every possible angle to get to play, and nothing worked."

Cusworth isn't injured. He didn't flunk out. In fact, he graduated with a degree in biology and hopes to go on to medical school. Why then did his senior season end after 18 games?

"It's called the eight-semester rule," Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan explained. "It isn't a rule aimed at athletes; it's just a school rule. In Brian's case it forced him to make a choice: play our first 18 games this season or our last 10. We all agreed he would be better off playing the first 18."

Harvard is the only school in the country that could lose its leading scorer and rebounder midway through the season this way. Here's how it happened:

In the fall of 2003, before the start of his sophomore season, Cusworth suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, ending his season before it began. At most schools, the next step would have been obvious: Cusworth would have been granted a medical redshirt, meaning he would retain a season of eligibility and come back for a fifth year. But the Ivy League doesn't allow medical redshirts unless a player drops out of school. So, Cusworth dropped out of Harvard for the spring semester, intending to return in the fall and play in the 2006-07 season.

The Ivy League also has a rule that doesn't allow graduate students to participate in varsity sports. Even so, plenty of Ivy athletes play a fifth year when injured by dropping out of school the way Cusworth did. It isn't at all uncommon among football players: Someone gets hurt in the fall, drops out in the spring and then returns to play in his fifth fall. In fact, Cusworth's roommate this fall, Mike Lucas, was a football player in his fifth season, having been injured as a freshman.

"Football players do it here all the time," Cusworth said. "A lot of one-semester athletes do it, and it's no problem."

Basketball is a two-semester sport. Still, Cusworth would not have had a problem at other Ivy schools: He could have taken an underloaded curriculum in the fall and graduated in the spring. Or, he might have finished his course work in the fall and then done a senior thesis in the spring that would have allowed him to play.

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