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"Grayshirting" is a college recruiting practice that few student-athletes and their parents understand or even know about. Grayshirting is when a student-athlete gives and receives a verbal commitment but must delay his or her enrollment and eligibility until the second semester. Many observers think the practice is unfair because most grayshirted athletes miss their first semester of school and an entire season. However, in many instances coaches will greyshirt because of an injury or needed development time. If this is the case, the coach usually talks with the player about the option.
The process is tricky, because the NCAA sets limits on the number of new scholarship athletes a program can recruit each year. So sometimes rather than miss out on potential talent, coaches get some athletes to verbally commit, then deliver the news that their scholarship allotments are full and that the athletes must forgo their first season in order to receive their scholarships. (Review the NCAA'S designation of Head-Count vs. Equivalency Sports.)
What do coaches think about grayshirting? Here's a sample of opinion from three prominent college football coaches: Charlie Strong of the University of Louisville, Skip Holtz of University of South Florida and Rick Stockstill of Middle Tennessee State University.
When would you grayshirt an athlete?
Strong: The instances where it would be considered would be if a young man was recovering from an injury and was not going to be healthy enough to fully practice in the fall, or if he has academic issues that will not be resolved until summer and he agrees to it.
Holtz: If we think it is the right thing to do for the student-athlete and South Florida. I think it needs to be looked at on an individual basis. It is not right for everyone.
Stockstill: We have not done it since I have been here at MTSU.
Are there any advantages for the player and program by grayshirting?
Strong: For the player, there's extra time to prepare, both academically and athletically; an extra spring practice of football; starting college classes with fewer athletic requirements and without the pressure of game competition. The program benefits by having the player for an extra spring practice before competition actually begins.
Holtz: The grayshirt year gives an injured player time to rehab; potentially the player could have six years in the system in case of another injury [per NCAA Rules, one grayshirt year, one redshirt year if re-injured, and four years of eligibility]. Second, if a young player (usually OL or DL) has the skillset to be successful but needs extra time to develop physically, the year gives him more time to put on weight and gain the strength needed to be successful without starting his eligibility clock.
Stockstill: I think it's great for QBs and OLs. They are probably not going to play as freshmen anyway, and it gives them another six months and a spring to develop without losing a year.
Do you see any negatives in grayshirting for college football?
Strong: How it is handled within the recruiting process: are the parents and young man fully aware of the intent or reason, and have they agreed to the decision, or has it been forced on them?
Holtz: The main disadvantage is, what will that player do during those three or four months when he is not with the program? Will he have the self-discipline to do the hard work to improve physically? Or is it better for that player to get into a structured environment? I don't agree with using grayshirting for over-signing a recruiting class. Coaches need to be honest and upfront with student-athletes and vice versa. This way, we won't leave players out in the cold after Signing Day.
Stockstill: The only negative is if the coach does not keep his word and is dishonest with the player, or if he gets fired or takes another job. Then there would need to be an agreement with the athletic director or college president that they will honor the scholarship. I think it's important if a player does this that he attend school in the fall but not take a full course load. I don't see a big advantage with other positions.
(To view the big picture, read Must-Know NCAA Recruiting Rules and Regulations and Step One to Becoming a Collegiate Athlete: NCAA Eligibility Center.)