Redshirt (college sports)

Last updated

Redshirt, in United States college athletics, is a delay or suspension of an athlete's participation in order 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 [traditionally] has at most five academic years to use the four years of eligibility, thus becoming what is termed a fifth-year senior. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional year of eligibility was granted to student athletes by the NCAA who met certain criteria. Student athletes who qualified had up to six academic years to make use of their four years of eligibility, taking into consideration the extra year provided due to exceptional circumstances.


Etymology and origin

According to Merriam-Webster and Webster's Dictionary , the term redshirt comes from the red jersey commonly worn by such a player in practice scrimmages against the regulars. [1]

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 an athlete 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.


The term redshirt freshman indicates an athlete who will play in fewer than four games their freshman year. The following year they will be a redshirt sophomore all the way until their fifth year of eligibility, in which case they will be referred to as a fifth year senior. A redshirt freshman is distinguished from a true freshman: a student whose eligibility will run out upon graduation.


Student athletes just out of high school may not be ready for the academic and athletic demands at the university level. Redshirting provides the opportunity, with tutoring, to take classes for an academic year and become accustomed to the academic and physical rigors of university athletics. 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 physical size, strength, and stamina during their final phases of physical maturation. Athletes may also redshirt to learn the team playbook, as many college teams run more complex formations and executions than high school teams.

Athletes may be asked to redshirt if they would have little or no opportunity to compete as an academic freshman, which is a common occurrence in team sports where there is already an established upperclassman and/or too much depth[ clarification needed ] at a particular position. Redshirting allows the coaching staff the flexibility to use the athlete in competition for a full four years instead of just three years.

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 an athlete ineligible in advance to participate in the season. If an athlete shows great talent, or there are injuries on the team, the coach may remove the redshirt status and allow the athlete 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. [2] 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 the NJCAA system, use of redshirt may be pointless, as most students graduate in two years. But, the NCAA counts eligibility against any collegiate sports involvement. This means competition in different leagues, such as the NJCAA, NCCAA, NAIA, NCAA, etc will count against one another.

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. [3] The proposal, which was unanimously passed by the AFCA subcommittees for all three NCAA divisions, [4] was approved by the NCAA Division I Council in June 2018, taking effect with the 2018 college football season. [5] 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, [4] but the final passed proposal was not retroactive. [5]

Generally, eligibility must be used up within six years of enrolling at an eligible NCAA institution. Redshirts and medical redshirt eligibility deferrals cannot go beyond this six-year period. Although this rule does not apply to other collegiate sports organizations, like the NAIA where nontraditional students are allowed to compete. In the NCAA, use of various eligibility deferral techniques can lead to situations wherein an athlete has been an athlete for much longer than four years. Because the NCAA gave a free season of eligibility to student-athletes affected by disruptions brought on by COVID-19, this led to many athletes competing in a 7th season in 2021-2022. One example is Summer Allen of Weber State, whose competitive college career spanned nine seasons. She competed in both the 2013 and 2021 NCAA Women's Division I Cross Country Championship. Her eligibility was extended by going on an 18-month LDS Church mission that spanned two years of eligibility, redshirting one year, having a pregnancy one year, and losing a season due to COVID. [6]

Before the 2023 season, NCAA Division II followed the redshirt rules used in D-I before 2018. The Division II Presidents Council voted in October 2022 to support a proposed change in redshirt rules for football, which would allow players in that sport in their first year of college attendance to play up to three games without losing a year of eligibility. [7] This rule was approved by the D-II football membership at the 2023 NCAA Convention and took effect with the 2023 season. [8]

Other colors

A special case involves the eligibility of an athlete who loses the majority of a season to injury, popularly 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 competitions and have not participated after the midpoint of a season. For the purposes of eligibility, athletes granted such a waiver are treated as though they did not compete in that season.

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 but 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, as long as an academic redshirt completes nine academic credit hours in their first semester they may then compete in their second year free of restrictions. [9]

An athlete may also use a "grayshirt" year, in which the athlete attends school as neither a full-time student nor the recipient of a scholarship. The athlete is an unofficial member of the team and does not participate in practices, games, or receive financial assistance from the athletic department. One example is an athlete who is injured right before college and requires an entire year to recuperate. Rather than waste the redshirt, the athlete can attend school as a part-time student and join the team later. This is also used by athletes with religious obligations, serving in the military, or completing missionary work that keeps them out of school for a season. Any eligibility lost during this time is deferred to future seasons. This is commonly used by adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the church's young men are strongly encouraged to go on 2-year missions, and young women are allowed but not expected to serve as such for 18 months. [10]

"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, had more than one phone call with them, or received a scholarship offer. These athletes are walk-ons, but can receive scholarships after enrolling; although they are immediately eligible to compete, 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. [11]

A pinkshirt refers to a female athlete who misses a season due to pregnancy. The pinkshirt is only applicable if they do not compete during that season. Eligibility is deferred to the next year. [12]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Collegiate Athletic Association</span> American collegiate athletic organization

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a nonprofit organization that regulates student athletics among about 1,100 schools in the United States, and one in Canada. It also organizes the athletic programs of colleges and helps over 500,000 college student athletes who compete annually in college sports. The organization is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Varsity teams are sports teams that compete in university sports events.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">NCAA Division III</span> Division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association

NCAA Division III (D-III) is a division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States. D-III consists of athletic programs at colleges and universities that choose not to offer athletic scholarships to their student-athletes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">College rowing in the United States</span> Team sport version of rowing practiced by universities in the United States

Rowing is the oldest intercollegiate sport in the United States. The first intercollegiate race was a contest between Yale and Harvard in 1852. In the 2018–19 school year, there were 2,340 male and 7,294 female collegiate rowers in Divisions I, II and III, according to the NCAA. The sport has grown since the first NCAA statistics were compiled for the 1981–82 school year, which reflected 2,053 male and 1,187 female collegiate rowers in the three divisions. Some concern has been raised that some recent female numbers are inflated by non-competing novices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Detroit Mercy Titans</span> US college athletic program

The Detroit Mercy Titans are the athletic teams of University of Detroit Mercy. The university is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I. The school primarily competes in the Horizon League, but competes in other conferences for fencing and lacrosse, sports not sponsored for either men or women by the Horizon League. Fencing, a co-ed sport, competes in the Midwest Fencing Conference. Men's lacrosse moved from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to the ASUN Conference in July 2021. Women's lacrosse joined the Mid-American Conference for that league's first women's lacrosse season in 2021.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">College athletics in the United States</span> Component of American higher education

College athletics in the United States or college sports in the United States refers primarily to sports and athletic training and competition organized and funded by institutions of tertiary education in a two-tiered system.

An athletic scholarship is a form of scholarship to attend a college or university or a private high school awarded to an individual based predominantly on their ability to play in a sport. Athletic scholarships are common in the United States and to a certain extent in Canada, but in the vast majority of countries in the world they are rare or non-existent.

The Academic Progress Rate (APR) is a measure introduced by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the nonprofit association that organizes the athletic programs of many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, to track student-athletes' chances of graduation. The Academic Progress Rate (APR) is a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">College recruiting</span> Entry process for US college athletes

In college athletics in the United States, recruiting is the process in which college coaches add prospective student athletes to their roster each off-season. This process typically culminates in a coach extending an athletic scholarship offer to a player who is about to be a junior in high school or higher. There are instances, mostly at lower division universities, where no athletic scholarship can be awarded and where the player pays for tuition, housing, and textbook costs out of pocket or from financial aid. During this recruiting process, schools must comply with rules that define who may be involved in the recruiting process, when recruiting may occur and the conditions under which recruiting may be conducted. Recruiting rules seek, as much as possible, to control intrusions into the lives of prospective student-athletes. The NCAA defines recruiting as “any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">UNLV Rebels</span> American athletic program of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

The UNLV Rebels are the intercollegiate athletics teams that represent the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). The Rebels compete in the NCAA Division I as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The school's colors are scarlet and gray.

The Academic All-America program is a student-athlete recognition program. The program selects an honorary sports team composed of the most outstanding student-athletes of a specific season for positions in various sports—who in turn are given the honorific "Academic All-American". Since 1952, College Sports Communicators has bestowed Academic All-American recognition on male and female athletes in Divisions I, II, and III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as well as athletes in the NAIA, other U.S. four-year schools, two-year colleges, and Canadian universities, covering all championship sports. The award honors student-athletes who have performed well academically and athletically while regularly competing for their institution.

Student athlete is a term used principally in universities in the United States and Canada to describe students enrolled at postsecondary educational institutions, principally colleges and universities, but also at secondary schools, who participate in an organized competitive sport sponsored by that educational institution or school. The term student-athlete was coined in 1964 by Walter Byers, the first executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The term is also interchangeable with the synonymous term “varsity athlete”.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Washington & Jefferson Presidents</span>

The Washington & Jefferson Presidents are the intercollegiate athletic teams for Washington & Jefferson College. The name "Presidents" refers to the two presidential namesakes of the college: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. W&J is a member of the Presidents' Athletic Conference, the Eastern College Athletic Conference, and play in Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in both men's and women's varsity sports. During the 2005–2006 season, 34 percent of the student body played varsity-level athletics.

The Indiana Intercollegiate Conference (IIC) was an American college athletic conference formed in 1922 to govern intercollegiate competition in male sports in the state of Indiana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2012–13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish men's basketball team</span> American college basketball season

The 2012–13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish men's basketball team represented the University of Notre Dame in the sport of basketball during the 2012–13 college basketball season. The Fighting Irish competed in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big East Conference. They were led by head coach Mike Brey, and played their home games at the Edmund P. Joyce Center Notre Dame, Indiana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">2013–14 Arizona Wildcats men's basketball team</span> American college basketball season

The 2013–14 Arizona Wildcats men's basketball team represented the University of Arizona during the 2013–14 NCAA Division I men's basketball season. The team was led by fifth-year head coach Sean Miller and played home games at McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona as a member of the Pac-12 Conference. They finished the season 33–5, 15–3 in Pac-12 play and won their first Pac-12 regular season championship since 2011. They advanced to the championship game of the Pac-12 tournament where they lost to UCLA. They received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament where they defeated Weber State, Gonzaga, and San Diego State to advance to the Elite Eight where they lost to Wisconsin.

The Penn State Nittany Lions wrestling program is an intercollegiate varsity sport at Pennsylvania State University. The wrestling team is a competing member of the Big Ten Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The Nittany Lions compete at Rec Hall in State College, Pennsylvania, on the campus of Pennsylvania State University. The Nittany Lions have claimed 13 team National Championship titles and 55 individual NCAA National Championship titles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cheyney Wolves</span>

The Cheyney Wolves are the athletic sports teams for Cheyney University. They compete as an independent and formerly played in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). Women's sports include basketball, cheerleading and volleyball. Basketball is the only men's sport the university currently offers as of 2019.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">NCAA transfer portal</span> NCAA database and compliance tool

The NCAA transfer portal is a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) application, database, and compliance tool launched on October 15, 2018, to manage and facilitate the process for student athletes seeking to transfer between member institutions. The transfer portal permits student athletes to place their name in an online database declaring their desire to transfer. Athletes enter the portal by informing their current school of their desire to transfer; the school then has two business days to enter the athlete's name in the database. Once an athlete's name is entered in the database, coaches and staff from other schools are permitted to make contact with the athlete to inquire about their interest in visiting the campus and accepting a scholarship. The transfer portal is intended to bring greater transparency to the transfer process and to enable student athletes to publicize their desire to transfer. The transfer portal is an NCAA-wide database, covering transfers in all three NCAA divisions, although most media coverage of the transfer portal involves its use in the top-level Division I.

In education in the United States, reclassification or reclassing is the assignment of a student's high school graduation class to either a year earlier or later than their original. For young athletes, graduating a year earlier frees them to start their college sports career, with the hope of playing professionally sooner. On the other hand, an athlete repeating a grade and delaying graduation is allowed an extra year to mature. In most cases, a student who reclassified to graduate earlier also previously repeated a grade.


  1. "Definition of REDSHIRT". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved April 29, 2017.
  2. "Warren Alfson". Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  3. Kercheval, Ben; Dodd, Dennis (January 11, 2017). "New redshirt proposal would allow athletes to play four games, regardless of injury". . Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Gault, Jonathan (November 15, 2021). "Super Seniors: Meet the 6th- and 7th-Year Seniors (And Even One 9th Year) Running At The NCAA Cross Country Championships This Weekend". Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  7. "DII Presidents Council supports one membership-sponsored Convention proposal, opposes another" (Press release). NCAA. October 27, 2022. Retrieved November 8, 2022.
  8. "DII adopts football proposals providing more season-of-competition flexibility, spring scrimmage opportunities" (Press release). NCAA. January 14, 2023. Retrieved October 16, 2023.
  9. Sherman, Mitch (May 3, 2012). "New eligibility standards on the way: Toughest initial requirements ever enacted start with Class of 2016". ESPN .
  10. Gault, Jonathan (November 13, 2017). "This Is Not Your Older Brother's BYU Team -- The Cougars Are Ready for Their NCAA Moment". Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  11. Mizell, Gina (February 15, 2014). "How Deionte Noel went from Texas Tech commitment to OSU 'blueshirt'". The Oklahoman. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  12. Larche, Spencer (2008). "Pink-Shirting: Should the NCAA Consider a Maternity and Paterinity Waiver?". Marquette Sports Law Review. 18|2: 7.