Grayshirt. If you asked the average college football fan to define it chances are you would get a puzzled look.
While most knowledgable sports fans are aware of the process of redshirting a player to give them an additional year of eligibility to adapt to the collegiate game or get their academics in order, few understand what grayshirting is all about.
Because of the secretive way it is often employed, by college football coaches it makes sense why they wouldn’t.
Grayshirting is defined by the NCAA as follows:
“Grayshirting is a term used in the recruiting process to describe situations in which a student-athlete delays initial enrollment in a collegiate institution to the winter or spring term after the traditional academic year begins.
Students who “grayshirt” often use the fall to take classes part time or choose not to enroll in college at all.”
Sounds harmless right? Well it isn’t.
The negative effects of grayshirting incoming freshmen as a way to further evaluate talent have been examined previously by the sports media.
These effects were again under discussion in past days due to multiple allegations between SEC schools that conference members were using the process as a way to make a “final cut”.
Here’s how it works:
The interested school (lets call them State U) will encourage the recruit to sign a National Letter of Intent in February, but hold off on their enrollment until the following January.
Under this scenario, the school can actively evaluate the recruit’s physical performance for 11 months while they are not formally enrolled in classes.
When asked, Division I coaches will claim that they are up front about why they are offering a grayshirt to a potential student-athlete rather than a scholarship and it’s always to the recruit’s benefit.
The student-athlete needs time to rehab an injury. They need time to get their academics in order. They aren’t quite physically ready to compete for playing time.
While these reasons seem benign, what is going on behind the scenes is where the process gets its dubious reputation.
In reality, coaches are using grayshirting as a way to not formally commit themselves to a player and have the opportunity to “make them disappear” if it is determined that their ability is not up to snuff.
SEC schools have been oversigning and grayshirting players for years under the assumption that it is in the student-athlete’s best interest, when in reality it is a way to evaluate the potential of the player beyond the normal recruiting period without any consequences.
The NCAA has either chosen to turn a blind eye to the process, or in their desire to stay non-confrontational, have chosen to ignore the damaging effects it has.
If a student-athlete chooses to grayshirt at State U, and all of the sudden, seven months later they are told that they aren’t a fit, then what?
Any other offers they had on the table from competing programs are now out the window and they are back to square one without a team to play for.
It’s just shady. There’s no other way to describe it.
The coaches who use it should be very careful.
Reputations are built and destroyed by walking the very thin line between aggressive and morally reprehensible.