Redshirt (college sports)
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In United States college athletics, redshirt is a delay or suspension of an athlete's participation in order to lengthen his or her period of eligibility. Typically, a student's athletic eligibility in a given sport is four seasons, a number derived from the four years of academic classes that are normally required to obtain a bachelor's degree at an American college or university. However, a student athlete may be offered the opportunity to redshirt for up to two years, which allows the athlete to spread those four years of eligibility over five, or sometimes six years. In a redshirt year, a student athlete may attend classes at the college or university, practice with an athletic team, and dress for play but he or she may not compete during the game. Using this mechanism, a student athlete has up to five academic years to use the four years of eligibility, thus becoming a fifth-year senior.
The term is used as a verb, noun, and adjective. For example, a coach may choose to redshirt a player who is then referred to as a redshirt, and a redshirt freshman refers to an athlete during his or her first year of eligibility.
There are many reasons student athletes might become redshirts. One reason is that the athlete may not be ready to balance the demands of academic requirements with their athletic requirements. Redshirting gives them the opportunity, with tutoring, to take some classes and get accustomed to the academic demands. They also may redshirt to gain a year of practice with the team prior to participating in competition. In college football, a student athlete may redshirt to increase size and strength toward the completion of overall physical maturity, desirable assets for many positions. As the college years coincide with the final phases of physical maturity, using a year of eligibility in the last college year is generally more beneficial to the team and to the student athlete's potential professional prospects than it is to use the same year of eligibility in the first college year. Players, especially in football, may redshirt to learn the team's play book, since college teams typically run a greater number of, and more complex, plays than most high school teams.
An athlete may be asked to redshirt if he or she would have little or no opportunity to play as an academic freshman. This is a common occurrence in many sports where there is already an established starter or too much depth at the position in which the freshman in question is planning to play.
A special case involves the eligibility of a player who loses the majority of a season to injury. Popularly known as a medical redshirt, a hardship waiver may be granted an athlete who appears in fewer than 30% of his or her team's competitions (with none coming after the midway point of the season), then suffers a season-ending injury. A player who is granted such a waiver is treated for the purposes of his or her eligibility as though he or she had not competed in that season.
On rare occasions, a player may be allowed to play in his or her sixth year of college if he or she suffered a serious injury which kept him or her from playing for more than one season. Former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jason White is perhaps the best known example of this, as he had redshirted his freshman year, then subsequently tore the ACL in both knees, causing him to miss nearly two years of eligible playing time. A more recent example is former Houston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum, now a member of the Houston Texans. His story is similar to that of White; Keenum redshirted his freshman year of 2006, and then tore an ACL three games into the 2010 season, which would have otherwise been his final year of eligibility.
The term redshirt freshman indicates an academic sophomore (second-year student) who is in his first season of athletic eligibility. A redshirt freshman is distinguished from a true freshman (first-year student) as one who has practiced with the team for the prior season. The term redshirt sophomore is also commonly used to indicate an academic junior (third-year student) who is in the second season of athletic eligibility. After the sophomore year, the term redshirt is rarely used, in favor of fourth-year junior and fifth-year senior.
Athletes may also use a "grayshirt" year in which they attend school, but cannot enroll as a full-time student, and do not receive a scholarship for that year. This means that they are an unofficial member of the team and do not participate in practices, games, or receive financial assistance from their athletic department. Typically, grayshirts are players who are injured right before college and require an entire year to recuperate. Rather than waste his or her redshirt, the player can attend school as a part-time regular student and then join the team later. This is also used by players with religious or military obligations that keep them out of school for a full academic year.
Starting in 2016 there will be a new status called the "academic redshirt". In 2016 the NCAA will start enforcing new, stricter admissions requirements for incoming freshman athletes. A student-athlete who meets the school's own academic admission requirements, but does not meet the NCAA's new requirements (primarily a 2.3 GPA in 4 years) will be able to enter school as an academic redshirt. This student will be eligible to receive an athletic scholarship and practice with the team, but not participate in competition. An academic redshirt will not lose a year of eligibility, but will not be able to take a later injury redshirt. An academic redshirt must complete 9 credit hours in his first semester and can participate fully in their second year.
Use of status
While the redshirt status may be conferred by a coach at the beginning of the year, it is not confirmed until the end of the season, and more specifically, it does not rule a player ineligible in advance to participate in the season. If a player shows great talent, or there are injuries on the team, the coach may remove the redshirt status and allow the player to participate in competition for the remainder of the year.
The first athlete known to extend his eligibility in the modern era of redshirting was Warren Alfson of the University of Nebraska in 1937. Alfson requested that he be allowed to sit out his sophomore season due to the number of experienced players ahead of him. In addition, he had not started college until several years after graduating from high school, and thus felt he needed more preparation. The year off worked; Alfson was All-Big Six Conference in 1939 and an All-American guard in 1940.
According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, the term redshirt comes from the red jersey commonly worn by such a player in practice scrimmages against the regulars.
- NCAA Frequently-Asked Questions on Redshirts, Age Limits, and Graduate Participation. Note: site requires account to access