We’ve all heard of a redshirt, but do you know what a grayshirt is?
Redshirting in college means that you’re sitting out of competition, oftentimes in order to develop. This feeling can weigh heavy on an athlete. Their team electing to sit them out might make them feel like they’re not needed.
This feeling is even stronger in grayshirts, athletes who are recruited by the college, but who are essentially not a part of the team until their second semester. For their first semester, they cannot partake in any team activities (even practice) and must be a part-time student. As a grayshirt, you’re on the outside looking in. You’ll be able to see all of the happenings of the team, but are forbidden from officially taking part in them.
To add onto that feeling, as a part-time student, you may not qualify for financial aid. This can put a strain on you and your family, or even force you to find work. It’s very easy for a grayshirt to feel alienated and in limbo. But, for some, taking a grayshirt offer might be a blessing in disguise.
What Makes You a Grayshirt?
A grayshirt is a college offering an athlete a scholarship only after they are a part-time student and are not a part of team activities during their first semester. In your second semester, you can receive a scholarship, take classes full-time, and participate in team activities. This is a loophole for colleges to get around their yearly scholarship allotment amounts. If they’re taking this approach, they must really want you on the team.
Each team has only so many scholarships that they can offer per NCAA rules, so grayshirts allow them to recruit more players without going over their limit. Many people criticize grayshirting because it takes an athlete’s redshirt year without allowing them to hone their skills during team practices.
Grayshirt offers may sometimes also blindside an athlete. You can commit to a school believing you will receive a normal scholarship offer, and right before signing day, the school may reveal that their offer is only a grayshirt. This prevents you from exploring their other options because you’ve planned on attending this school for so long.
Freedom of Being a Grayshirt
Entering college as a grayshirt does not have to be a dismal sentence, however. In fact, being in such a situation provides many freedoms that a normal scholarship offer doesn’t bring. To start, not having to be a part of team activities means that a large amount of your day is free. Of course, it would be great to be there for team-bonding activities and other cool experiences, but with most of your day free you can focus on school, make new friends, and explore everything that campus life offers. You will have opportunities that never would have presented if you were immediately on scholarship.
Grayshirting is also great for athletes who enter college with injuries. Taking that first semester to recover and rehab is great because it allows you to focus your energy solely on getting better. The same goes for basic needs in physical development: a team weight program will help you develop, but many are general and designed for the entire team. You can take your grayshirt term to focus on your unique needs in workouts.
A grayshirt isn’t a worst-case scenario. You can emerge from it a better athlete and more well-rounded person than you would have with a normal scholarship entering college. Jonathan Peterson entered into college as a grayshirt, and emerged the all-time FCS leader in sacks.
It’s clear that as a grayshirt the odds are going to be stacked against you. But, taking such an opportunity shows that you believe in yourself and your abilities, and that you are determined enough to be successful in the long run.
* Originally published on November 24, 2021, by Isaac Haney