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Redshirt is a term used in Americanmarker college athletics that refers to delaying or suspending 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 one year which allows the athlete to spread those four years of eligibility over five 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 creating the phenomenon of the "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 freshman or simply a redshirt.

Reasons

There are many reasons a student-athlete may redshirt. A student-athlete 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 add size prior to participating since football tends to favor larger players. Since the college years coincide with the typical completion of physical maturity, using a year of eligibility in the first 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 last college year. Players, especially in football, may redshirt to learn the team's play book since college teams run more complex and more plays generally than most high school teams. Contrary to common belief, a player may not be granted a redshirt if he or she has participated in less than 10% of the season taking place in an academic year. The redshirt rule states that any competition counts against a player's eligibility.

An athlete may be asked to redshirt if he or she would have 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.

There is also a medical redshirt that may be obtained to replace a season lost to injury. A medical redshirt, called a "medical hardship" by the NCAA, can be granted by the governing body for a season lost completely or almost completely to injury. A medical redshirt can allow a player to gain additional eligibility beyond the standard four academic calendar years. 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.

The term redshirt freshman indicates an academic sophomore (second-year student) who is in the 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, instead the terms fourth year junior and fifth year senior are more common.

Athletes may also utilize 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 occur when a player is injured right before college and requires 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.

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.

However, NCAA rules are quite clear on the use of redshirt status: any participation in any competition counts as a season of eligibility. For example, even a single play in a football game counts as participation for an entire season, so coaches cannot play redshirt players at the end of a game simply to get them some experience. This contrasts with high school classifications of varsity and junior varsity, where JV players are sometimes allowed to play at the varsity level without using an additional year of eligibility.

The first athlete known to extend their 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; also, he had not attended college until several years after graduating high school, and felt he needed more preparation. The year of preparation worked; Alfson was All-Big Six Conference in 1939 and an All-American guard in 1940.

Nomenclature

According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, the term "redshirt" is so called from the red jersey commonly worn by such a player in practice scrimmages against the regulars.

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