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March 18, 2020

Redshirt Process for Division III Athletes

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Most college freshmen athletes expect to play their sport right off the bat. Unfortunately, this might not be the case.  At the Division I level, first-year athletes who will not compete have the chance to redshirt and gain another year of eligibility. The criteria for a Division I redshirt is if a coach sees that a player will not find their way into the lineup during their first year on campus, they have the ability to grant them an extra year. This player can still participate in practice and attend games, but they cannot participate in intercollegiate competition if they want to maintain their additional year of eligibility.

Unfortunately, not every student-athlete participating in NCAA competition has the same redshirt opportunities. For student-athletes competing at the Division III level, redshirts cannot be earned through a lack of playing time. A third-string quarterback in Division III, unlike their counterparts in the SEC, cannot sit down with their coach and choose to forgo their freshman year to save eligibility. Redshirts do exist at this level; however, they appear in a  different form.

The process of obtaining a “redshirt” in Division III competition typically involves a medical procedure and can be more complicated to obtain than in Division I. Generally, student-athletes who suffer a significant injury and play in less than one-third of the games in a season are eligible for the “medical hardship waiver.” The competitor must then document their injury through the appropriate medical channels and submit further information to either their conference or the NCAA.

Jack Scher, a sophomore baseball player at Wesleyan University, recently went through the process of obtaining a medical hardship waiver after suffering an injury in his freshman year. Scher tore his labrum after participating in only a few games and sought a medical redshirt. “I was hurt pretty quickly into the season, and after meeting with some doctors and realizing I would need surgery, I knew I wanted to get that full year back.”

For many Division III student-athletes, the desire to obtain a redshirt reflects off the field goals as well. Scher said that his post-graduation aspirations also influenced his decision to medical redshirt. “Wesleyan has many fantastic graduate programs that I was interested in before my injury, and I realized that if I were going to stay on campus to get another degree, it would be cool to be able to play more baseball,” Scher said.

But once again, the logistics of receiving another year of eligibility are much different for Division III athletes. While Division I coaches are involved in the decision of their athlete’s redshirting, Division III coaches have a limited role. Scher explained to me, “I mostly dealt with doctors, Wesleyan’s training staff and personnel in the athletic department to get my redshirt. I had to get so many medical documents from doctors and physical therapy; my coach was rarely involved.”

Patrick Clare, a fifth year senior pitcher at Wesleyan, obtained a medical redshirt after an elbow injury in his freshman year and is currently working towards a graduate degree while continuing his career. His medical redshirt process shows the level of patience Division III athletes may need to exhibit in trying to obtain another year of eligibility. Clare submitted his original medical paperwork in early October of 2018 and his supplementary information through the Wesleyan Athletic Department to the New England Small College Athletic Conference in December. He then went through six months of back and forth with both the NESCAC and NCAA until he was finally granted a fifth year of eligibility. The medical redshirt process can be tedious and difficult for Division III athletes, but, for most student-athletes, the alternative of being done with college sports is more daunting.