A "redshirt" player is an American college student-athlete who sits out an entire sports season to preserve a year's worth of competitive eligibility. During a redshirt season a player can practice but not play in any games. Student-athletes can redshirt in any sport, but the practice is most common in college football.
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, students are allowed no more than four years of athletic eligibility in any one sport. A "redshirt" player gets an additional year (a fifth year academically) to participate in practice and training sessions. The term "redshirt freshman" refers to a student-athlete in his second year of college (an academic sophomore) but in his first year of sports competition. The term "true freshman" refers to a student-athlete who forgoes a redshirt season and plays in his academic (or "true") freshman year.
In some cases, a player or college program can seek a medical hardship waiver or a "medical redshirt." A player is eligible for a medical redshirt if she plays in less than 30 percent of a team's games before succumbing to a season-ending medical problem. A player that has taken an earlier redshirt by choice can still apply for a medical redshirt. This "sixth" year player would end up spending six years in the program, but playing in just four. Appeals for medical redshirts are handled by the college's respective conference or the NCAA directly.
Redshirt players are commonplace in college football (the term "redshirt" is derived from the red practice jerseys worn by football players not on the competitive roster). In a 2007 interview, NCAA president Myles Brand said 80 percent of Division I football players redshirt. A redshirt year allows a player additional time to learn the complexities of a college football playbook. It also gives young players more time to develop physically.
Some college officials wish to do away with the redshirt system, particularly in college football. At their annual meeting in 2009, the football coaches of the Big 12 Conference proposed that the NCAA provide all college football players with five years of eligibility. Their belief, as explained by Big 12 Commissioner Dan Bebee in 2008, is that an additional year of eligibility would ease playing-time concerns for coaches while allowing more freshmen the opportunity to compete.