"Red shirt" in sports

What does it mean when a player is called a “red shirt”? Where did this term come from… & why? (And please don’t tell me it is purely because s/he wears a red shirt!)

In NCAA athletics, a player who is “red shirting” is allowed to practice with the team but is not eligible to participate in comptetitions. In exchange for this, the player does not use a year of athletic eligibilty (thus, a “redshirt freshman” is a player that has been on the team two years, but redshirted the first year, so still has all 4 years of eligibility remaining).

In general, you can only redshirt once. It doesn’t have to be your first year, but if you redshirt, the first year is the natural choice becuase this allows you to grow and learn the new system for your team. In certain cases, the NCAA will allow you to redshirt a second time for medical reasons upon appeal.

If you have chosen to redshirt, you can “take off the redshirt” and participate in competition at any time, but you will use your year of eligibility.

As far as the origin of the phrase, I don’t know, but I’m sure there was a stipulation that such players had to wear red shirts during competitions to indicate that they were ineligible to participate.

Not sure where it comes from, but it refers to a year where the player doesn’t participate in actual games, but practices and works out to gain skill. They get the benefit of a year of experience, but don’t lose a year of eligibility.

A ‘red-shirt’ freshman is actually a sophomore academically (maybe :rolleyes:) but still has 4 years left to play ball.

Although we already have a definition, I found it interesting that “redshirt” is in the OED.

Don’t know why I trust myself to answer questions about American Football (not that our “soccer” is not boring), but here goes, from The official website of the Ohio State Department of Athletics

A red shirt is a freshman who practices and scrimmages with the team, but who is never put on the roster as an official team member. (This allows developing players the opportunity to practice and become integrated with the team while not messing up their eligibility to play for a certain number of years and by not forcing the coach to reduce the number of his “real” players by including the guys who are not yet up to their full potential.) The opposite of a “redshirt” is a “true.”

As to the origin, I was more familiar with the Star Trek meaning, but this Q&A site mentions that such freshmen actually wore red shirts in practice (at least at some schools) with a M-W citation to the mid-1950s (which clearly predates Star Trek).

Correct link is The official website of the Ohio State Department of Athletics

Fascinating. That’s my Mr. Spock impersonation. (My understanding is that at least on the original series, a redshirt who goes down to a planet never makes it back up to the ship, but that’s another thread on another forum.)

Thanks for the answers. I, too, am surprised that the OED has redshirt listed. Another reason to buy the OED. More questions (I’m obviously a sports neophyte):

  1. How many years is an athlete eligible to play on the team (in competitions, I mean)? Is this a uniform number or are some athletes eligible longer than others?

  2. I’m still curious about why the term “redshirt”. I suppose red is an easy color to pick out of the crowd, but (stupid query here) what if the school color is red?

The red is referring to practice jerseys.

I don’t think football players that are “redshirting” wear an actual red shirt. The coaches can pretty much keep them straight.

Football players who are not supposed to be hit during practice (such as QBs and kickers) do wear a red shirt over the regular practice jersey as a warning to everyone.

An athlete can be eligible to play for four years and no more. They can be routinely redshirted for one year, so someone could go to college for five years and play four. All athletes fall under these rules, except for special cases like injuries.

Also, if a student transfers from one school to another, he is ineligible for the first year.

As a matter of fact, red is one of the school colors of Ohio State.

However, there is a more detailed explanation: I know that the term “redshirt” predates freshman eligibility. Up until the 60s, freshmen couldn’t play varsity sports. OSU probably put all their freshmen in red shirts to differentiate them from the varsity, which would wear . When people had to sit out a season after they finished their freshman year, they probably had them work out with the freshmen and wear red shirts.

Former redshirt here. The above pretty accurately answers all issues. A couple of additions.

Technically, there isn’t a limit of one redshirt year a person can take. However, beyond the first redshirt year the others are likely to be medically related. Example: A guy I played with was a 6th year player when I was a freshman. In order of year he: redshirted, played, played, medical redshirted due to severe automobile accident injuries that took about 10 months to rehab, played, played.

I can’t find a cite for it online, but among the dozens of papers a college athlete has to sign each year are many talking about eligibility. This deals mostly with not having accepted money to play, no agents, etc. But, there was one that said something along the lines of “If your high school graduation was greater than 8 years ago, you can’t play NCAA sports.” I reckon this rule is different for different levels and I don’t remember the year limit, but there is something like that on the books.

I am shocked – shocked! – that the makers of Necessary Roughness and The Waterboy lied to me. :smiley: