Why don't they just red-shirt me?
The initial response of US hockey families who are familiar with college football when they learn college coaches want older players is often "What about the red-shirt?" Red-shirting, or sitting out a year while still practicing with a team allows a player to extend eligibility to a fifth season. Its origins go back to a day when few freshman played varsity college sports.
Hockey coaches don't often utilize the ‘red-shirt’ for freshman like football. This is a legitimate option for college coaches, but not frequently utilized in ice hockey.
First in D-I football, where red-shirting is very popular, there are far fewer games vs. practices, so a practice player gets to be with the team for most of the time they are in action. Second football systems are more complicated to learn, so when they actually do step on the field for a game players who have had a year to learn what is expected of them can hit the ground running. Third, at DI the coaches have a generous 85 football scholarships per school to hand out. Finally, because it is a fall sport, the red-shirt player really only has to stay in school 4.5 years to be with the team for 5 seasons.
By contrast in hockey, a player can simply play juniors, get the additional experience, and come to college a year or two older and a year stronger. In fact, the coach can give out a scholarship to the high school student for a year or two out, and request they play juniors while waiting without using one of his precious 18 scholarships for a player who cannot play, and the player is not committing to stay at college for 5 full years (hockey ends in the spring term). Players in Juniors can still take up to 12 credits without losing a year of eligibility while waiting. For many players this is a better alternative than being on a college team and not dressing. Many also argue they are better suited to handle the rigors of college and practice a few years older and wiser. So the red-shirt remains an option and is used, but far less frequently than in some other sports.
Note: the NCAA also grants “medical hardship waivers”, sometimes called a “medical redshirt” to players with season ending injuries in the first third of a season that play in less than 25% the team’s regular season games. This is by request and if approved could allow a player who missed most of a season to return to the school to play an extra year.
Article by George Haviland Jr. and Vinnie Dicks, Iceworld Consulting
George and Vinnie co-authored "Your Hockey Future" a new guide for those pursuing college after high school. www.iceworldconsulting.com
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