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What Defines a Redshirt Freshman?

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

A “redshirt freshman” refers to a college student-athlete who abstains from competitive play during their freshman year and commences their initial athletic season in their sophomore year. This implies that a redshirt freshman is an athletic “freshman” but an academic sophomore.

To comprehend the essence of a “redshirt,” let’s dive deeper into its meaning.


What is a “Redshirt”?

A “redshirt” characterizes a college student-athlete who refrains from participating in gameplay for a season while retaining eligibility to compete in four years of college sports. Though redshirts do not engage in games against other schools, they can practice with their team to refine their skills and receive athletic scholarships or financial aid.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) doesn’t officially employ the term “redshirt.” However, players and coaches occasionally use this term within Division 1 (D1) and Division 2 (D2) sports.


Why is it called “redshirting”

The term “redshirting” is believed to originate from Warren Alfson, a student-athlete at the University of Nebraska. In 1937, Alfson requested to train with the team but refrain from playing in any matches. As Nebraska’s team color was red, Warren sported a red shirt without a number. Since then, student-athletes who sit out of competitive gameplay for a year have been dubbed “redshirts” by players and coaches.



The purpose of redshirting as a freshman

There are several reasons why a freshman might opt for redshirting:

  1. Easing the transition from high school to college.

  2. Enhancing athletic skills before competitive gameplay.

  3. Recovering from a pre-season injury.


Easing the transition from high school to college

Becoming a redshirt freshman allows student-athletes to smoothly transition from high school to college life without immediate competitive pressures. This period allows them to concentrate on acclimatizing to college academics while familiarizing themselves with their respective sports and teams from the sidelines.


Enhancing athletic skills before competitive gameplay

Coaches also benefit from redshirting freshman players. It grants these athletes additional time to grow and refine their athletic abilities before facing top-tier competition. Additionally, coaches might opt for redshirting to extend a freshman athlete’s eligibility for college sports.


Recovering from a pre-season injury

Redshirting as a freshman proves beneficial for student-athletes who sustain injuries before their inaugural competitive season. It grants them two semesters to recuperate from their injury while retaining eligibility to compete in college sports for four years.


Timeline for a redshirt freshman

As per NCAA regulations, student-athletes in D1 and D2 schools possess five full school years (equivalent to 10 semesters or 15 quarters) to complete four years of college sports. This allows student-athletes to “redshirt” any one of their four college years.

For those who choose to redshirt in their freshman year, competitive gameplay against other teams typically begins in their sophomore year, thereby extending their eligibility to play college sports for an additional year post-graduation. These athletes are occasionally referred to as fifth-year seniors.


Advantages of redshirting as a freshman

Redshirt freshman status offers two primary advantages: it grants student-athletes a dedicated year to enhance their athletic abilities while focusing on college coursework. The transition from high school to college can be overwhelming, making redshirting an option to minimize the initial pressure on freshman student-athletes. This additional year allows them to acclimate to college life and fine-tune their athletic skills, enabling a more focused approach to competition in their sophomore year.


Disadvantages of redshirting as a freshman

A significant downside of being a redshirt freshman is the exclusion from participating in competitive games or team travel for a year. Additionally, redshirt freshmen often face increased training demands, as coaches expect visible improvements during the redshirt period, either in skill enhancement or recovery from injuries.


The decision to redshirt as a freshman presents both advantages and disadvantages. However, it may serve as a beneficial option for student-athletes requiring additional time to develop academically and athletically, recuperate from preseason injuries, or extend their eligibility for collegiate sports. Evaluating individual circumstances and goals is crucial in determining the suitability of redshirting for student-athletes aiming to excel in both academics and athletics.




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