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Redshirt, in United States college athletics, is a delay or suspension of an athlete's participation 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, in a redshirt year, student athletes may attend classes at the college or university, practice with an athletic team, and dress for play – but they may not compete in games. 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 origin of the term redshirt was likely from Warren Alfson of the University of Nebraska who, in 1937, asked to practice but not play and wore a Nebraska red shirt without a number. 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 in the first year of eligibility.
Student athletes become redshirts for many reasons. One reason is that the athlete may not be ready to balance the demands of academic requirements with athletic requirements. Redshirting provides 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.
Athletes may be asked to redshirt if they 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 the freshman in question plans to play or that the coach would want to use the player as a starter later in his career so that he can play for four years instead of three.
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 to athletes who appear in fewer than 30% of team competitions (none after the midpoint of the season) then suffers a season-ending injury. Players granted such a waiver are treated for the purposes of eligibility as though they did not compete in that season.
On rare occasions, players may be allowed to play in their sixth year of college—if they suffered a serious injury that kept them 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 first 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. His story is similar to that of White; Keenum redshirted his first 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 who is in their first year both academically and athletically. A redshirt freshman may have practiced with the team during 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 second year, the term redshirt is rarely used, in favor of fourth-year junior and fifth-year senior.
In 2016, a new status can apply called the academic redshirt. In 2016, the NCAA starts enforcing new, stricter admissions requirements for incoming freshman athletes. Under these new rules, 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) can enter school as an academic redshirt. This student can receive an athletic scholarship and practice with the team, but may not participate in competition. An academic redshirt does not lose a year of eligibility, but can take a later injury redshirt. Academic redshirts must complete nine credit hours in their first semester and can participate fully in the second year.
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 the redshirt, the player can attend school as a part-time regular student and 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.
"Blueshirt" athletes are those that the NCAA does not classify as a "recruited student-athlete". They have never made an official visit to the school, met with the school's athletic employees or had more than one phone call with them, or received a scholarship offer. Such athletes are walk-ons, but can receive scholarships after enrolling; although they are immediately eligible to play, their scholarships count for the school's quota in the following year. The New Mexico State Aggies football program was the first to blueshirt in the early 2000s; other football programs include Oklahoma State and possibly Tennessee.
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 greatly benefited him; Alfson was All-Big Six Conference in 1939 and an All-American guard in 1940.
In professional sports
Unofficially, redshirting in professional sports is mostly for medical reasons, mostly done for delaying their debuts. Blake Griffin won the Rookie of the Year in his second year because his first year was written off with injuries, but had he not declared for the draft, he would have been a college junior. Larry Bird opted to declare for the draft early in 1978, but decided to stay in college for one year to finish his senior year. David Robinson was redshirted for two years due to military requirements. Jerry Lucas, however, effectively held out due to contract disputes. All four went on to win Rookie of the Year in their first years of eligibility for the award. In the NFL, quarterbacks cannot be officially redshirted because they are unused backups that never started in his rookie year. It is the same case with other positions, while players can become 'redshirt rookies' for injury reasons, they are not eligible for rookie of the year/month/week honors.
According to Merriam-Webster and 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.
- "New eligibility standards on the way: Toughest initial requirements ever enacted start with Class of 2016". ESPN. May 3, 2012.
- Mizell, Gina (February 15, 2014). "How Deionte Noel went from Texas Tech commitment to OSU 'blueshirt'". The Oklahoman. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
- "Warren Alfson". huskers.com. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
- "Definition of REDSHIRT". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved April 29, 2017.
- NCAA Frequently-Asked Questions on Redshirts, Age Limits, and Graduate Participation. Note: site requires account to access
- Redshirt Freshman
- Findlaw.com definition of Redshirt