Explain the Game – Red-Shirt
Every college student-athlete wants to be able to play their sports for four years, but sometimes athletes can’t play because of injuries or because they won’t get any playing time. In those cases, the players can redshirt to extend the eligibility to play in college sports for a year. This means that the athlete can be in his fifth academic year, but in his fourth athletic year.
There can be several reasons someone red-shirts a season:
- The student-athlete might not be able to meet the athletic and/or academic demands yet. This might mean that the athlete has to get higher grades or get tutoring during the red-shirt year, or that they get the time to improve their physique or learn the complex playbook of a college team
- If a freshman doesn’t have a lot of chance to compete in his first year, as there are better upperclassmen on the same position, he can red-shirt that first year. The next season, he’ll be called a red-shirt freshman, though he is a sophomore academically.
- An injury is one of the reasons an athlete can red-shirt. To be eligible for that, the player has to have played less than 30% of the team’s competitions and it has to happen before the midpoint of the season. Then, a waiver can be granted to that, and the entire year is not counted for their eligibility.
Two terms besides red-shirt are used to provide clarity about the eligibility of an athlete. The first one is the gray-shirt, which means an athlete is an unofficial member of the team that year, but he can practice with the team. This is often used by athletes that are injured just before the season and will need an entire year to rehabilitate. This way, they don’t need to use a medical red-shirt that year.
The second term is a blue-shirt athlete. This is an athlete that hasn’t been recruited by the school and hasn’t received a scholarship offer. These athletes are referred to as ‘walk-ons’. They are immediately eligible to play and they can always receive a scholarship later. A recent example of a walk-on athlete that has become quite successful is Luke Maye. Two years after he joined the North Carolina Tarheels as a blue-shirt athlete, he made a buzzer-beater which got them to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament (2017).