Redshirt (college sports)

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Redshirt, in United States college athletics, is a delay or suspension of an athlete's participation to lengthen their period of eligibility. Typically, a student's athletic eligibility in a given sport is four seasons, aligning with the four years of academic classes typically required to earn 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 "suit up" (wear a team uniform) for play – but they may compete in only a limited number of games, (see "Use of status" section). Using this mechanism, a student athlete has at most five academic years to use the four years of eligibility, thus becoming what is termed a fifth-year senior.

College athletics encompasses non-professional, collegiate and university-level competitive sports and games.

A bachelor's degree or baccalaureate is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to seven years. In some institutions and educational systems, some bachelor's degrees can only be taken as graduate or postgraduate degrees after a first degree has been completed. In countries with qualifications frameworks, bachelor's degrees are normally one of the major levels in the framework, although some qualifications titled bachelor's degrees may be at other levels and some qualifications with non-bachelor's titles may be classified as bachelor's degrees.

Student athlete

A student athlete is a participant in an organized competitive sport sponsored by the educational institution in which he or she is enrolled. Student-athletes are full time students and athletes at the same time. Colleges offer athletic scholarships in many sports. Many student athletes are given scholarships to attend these institutions but scholarships are not mandatory in order to be called a student athlete. In the United States, athletic scholarships are largely regulated by either the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which sets minimum standards for both the individuals awarded the scholarships and for the institutions granting them. Also students that are very talented may get scholarships for playing a particular sport. The term student-athlete was coined in 1964 by Walter Byers, the first-ever executive director of the NCAA, to counter attempts to require universities to pay workers' compensation.


Etymology and origin

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. [1]

Merriam-Webster American publisher

Merriam-Webster, Inc., is an American company that publishes reference books and is especially known for its dictionaries.

Webster's Dictionary is any of the dictionaries edited by Noah Webster in the early nineteenth century, and numerous related or unrelated dictionaries that have adopted the Webster's name. "Webster's" has become a genericized trademark in the U.S. for dictionaries of the English language, and is widely used in English dictionary titles. Merriam-Webster is the corporate heir to Noah Webster's original works, which are in the public domain.

A jersey is an item of knitted clothing, traditionally in wool or cotton, with sleeves, worn as a pullover, as it does not open at the front, unlike a cardigan. It is usually close-fitting and machine knitted in contrast to a guernsey that is more often hand knit with a thicker yarn. The word is usually used interchangeably with sweater.

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 participation, after a redshirt non-participatory year.

Warren Frank Alfson was an American football guard and linebacker for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, as well as the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National Football League.

Nebraska Cornhuskers football football team of the University of Nebraska

The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team competes as part of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, representing the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in the West Division of the Big Ten. Nebraska plays its home games at Memorial Stadium, where it has sold out every game since 1962. The team is currently coached by Scott Frost.

A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action, an occurrence, or a state of being. In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive. In many languages, verbs are inflected to encode tense, aspect, mood, and voice. A verb may also agree with the person, gender or number of some of its arguments, such as its subject, or object. Verbs have tenses: present, to indicate that an action is being carried out; past, to indicate that an action has been done; future, to indicate that an action will be done.


Student athletes become redshirts for many reasons. One example is that the student athlete may not be ready to balance the demands of both academic and athletic requirements. Redshirting provides the opportunity, with tutoring, to take some classes and become accustomed to the academic rigors demanded of them. They may also redshirt to undergo a year of practice with a team prior to participating in competition. In American college football, a student athlete may redshirt to work towards increasing size, strength, and stamina; all desirable assets for many positions, as the current and post-redshirt years coincide with the final phases of physical maturity. Players may also redshirt to learn the team playbook, as many college teams run more complex formations and executions in comparison to high school teams.

College football Collegiate rules version of American/Canadian football, played by colleges and universities

College football is gridiron football consisting of American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities. It was through college football play that American football rules first gained popularity in the United States.

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 upperclassman player in a position, or too much depth at the position the freshman in question plans to play. The coaching staff may also want to use the player as a starter later in their career so that they may play for the full four years instead of three.

A special case involves the eligibility of a player who loses the majority of a season to injury, known as a medical redshirt. A hardship waiver may be granted to those athletes who sustain a major injury while appearing in less than 30% of team competitions, nor can they have participated after the midpoint of a season. For the purposes of eligibility, players granted such a waiver are treated as though they did not compete in that season.

A waiver is the voluntary relinquishment or surrender of some known right or privilege.

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 competing for more than one season. Former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Jason White is perhaps the best known example of this; White had redshirted his first year, then subsequently tore the ACL in both knees, forcing him to miss nearly two years of eligible play time. Another recent example is former Houston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum; Keenum redshirted his freshman year of 2006, and subsequently tore an ACL three games into the 2010 season, which would have otherwise been his final year of eligibility.

Oklahoma Sooners football football team of the University of Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Sooners football program is a college football team that represents the University of Oklahoma. The team is a member of the Big 12 Conference, which is in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The program began in 1895 and is one of the most successful programs since World War II with the most wins (606) and the highest winning percentage (.762) since 1945. The program claims 7 national championships, 48 conference championships, 162 First Team All-Americans, and seven Heisman Trophy winners. In addition, the school has had 23 members inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and holds the record for the longest winning streak in Division I history with 47 straight victories. Oklahoma is also the only program that has had four coaches with 100+ wins. They became the sixth NCAA FBS team to win 900 games when they defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders on September 28 2019. The Sooners play their home games at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Lincoln Riley is currently the team's head coach.

Quarterback Position in gridiron football

The quarterback, colloquially known as the "signal caller", is a position in American and Canadian football. Quarterbacks are members of the offensive team and line up directly behind the offensive line. In modern American football, the quarterback is usually considered the leader of the offensive team, and is often responsible for calling the play in the huddle. The quarterback also touches the ball on almost every offensive play, and is the offensive player that almost always throws forward passes.

Jason White (American football) American football quarterback

Jason White is an American former college football quarterback who played for the University of Oklahoma, was recognized as a unanimous All-American, and won the Heisman Trophy in 2003.


The term redshirt freshman indicates an academic sophomore who is in their first season of athletic participation. A redshirt freshman is distinguished from a true freshman: a student 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 who is in the second season of athletic participation. After the second athletic year, the term redshirt is rarely used; the terms fourth-year junior and fifth-year senior are used instead.

In 2016, a new status could be applied to prospective student athletes, dubbed an academic redshirt. That year, the NCAA started enforcing new, stricter admissions requirements for incoming athletic freshmen. Under these new requirements, a student athlete who meets a school’s own academic admission requirements yet does not meet the NCAA requirement of a 2.3 GPA across four years, may 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, and may later take an injury redshirt if needed. Finally, academic redshirts must complete nine academic credit hours in their first semester and may then compete in their second year, free of restrictions. [2]

Other colors

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. [3]

There also exists a "blackshirt" which is unique to Nebraska football, where the term redshirt likely originated. This a tradition, generally denoting a starter or otherwise key contributor on Nebraska's defense, and not related to eligibility.

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. [4] 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 January 2017, the trade association for college football coaches, the American Football Coaches Association, proposed a change to that sport's eligibility rules that maintains the current model of four years of play in five years, but significantly changes the redshirt rule. Under the proposal, medical redshirts would be eliminated, but redshirt status would not be lost unless a player participated in more than four games in a season. [5] The proposal, which was unanimously passed by the AFCA subcommittees for all three NCAA divisions, [6] was approved by the NCAA Division I Council in June 2018, taking effect with the 2018 college football season. [7] The original proposal was to have been retroactive, meaning that players with athletic eligibility remaining who had played in four or fewer games in a given season would have effectively received one extra season of eligibility, [6] but the final passed proposal was not retroactive. [7]

In professional sports

The equivalent to redshirting in professional sports is the practice squad.

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  1. "Definition of REDSHIRT". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved April 29, 2017.
  2. "New eligibility standards on the way: Toughest initial requirements ever enacted start with Class of 2016". ESPN. May 3, 2012.
  3. Mizell, Gina (February 15, 2014). "How Deionte Noel went from Texas Tech commitment to OSU 'blueshirt'". The Oklahoman. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  4. "Warren Alfson". Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  5. Kercheval, Ben; Dodd, Dennis (January 11, 2017). "New redshirt proposal would allow athletes to play four games, regardless of injury". . Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  6. 1 2 Sullivan, Tim (December 31, 2017). "College football can benefit from a revised redshirt rule". The Courier-Journal . Louisville, KY . Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  7. 1 2 Dellenger, Ross (June 13, 2018). "The NCAA's Redshirt Rule Change Is a Major Win for Both Coaches and Players". Sports Illustrated . Retrieved July 27, 2018.