What do the Different Colors Mean?

I get a lot of questions regarding the meaning of different colored “shirts”, as in red shirt, green shirt, and gray shirt. These terms apply to recruiting and player development strategy and have become a common part of the vernacular as recruiting gets more and more publicity.
Red shirt has been around for a long time. Red means “stop” as in “stop from playing”. The NCAA allows a player five years to complete four seasons of eligibility. That fifth year, usually the freshman year, is when the player practices but doesn’t play in any games. That is called the Red shirt year. Players still receive their scholarship, still practice, still do everything the other players do—they just don’t play in the games. The purpose from the coaching standpoint is to preserve a year’s eligibility when the player probably wouldn’t see much action anyway. Many freshmen completing two-a-days right now are in limbo as to their status. Obviously most want to play (probably were promised that in recruiting), but have to be able to answer the question on whether they would play more four years from now. There is also the provision for a “medical red shirt” in that if a player is injured early in the season and won’t get back on the field soon, he is red-shirted for medical reasons, thus preserving that year of eligibility.
Green shirt is a relatively new term and is applied to that high school senior that forgoes his spring semester in high school to enroll in college in January. Green means “go” as in “go early”. More and more you see high school seniors pass up their final semester to get to campus early. Top flight Ebb’s like Stephenville’s Jean Snead (Texas) and Highland Park’s Matt Stafford (Georgia) are good examples. If a player (or the college staff), thinks he may be able to play right away as a freshman, it provides him with the opportunity to go through spring practice, learn the system, and get acclimated to being on campus. Obviously that takes some prior planning on the part of the player and his parents to insure he can graduate from high school early.
Grayshirt is another new term and is applied to the prospect that signs a letter of intent in February, but doesn’t report in the fall with his teammates. He delays entry to college until midyear, i.e. January. That NCAA five-year clock doesn’t start ticking until the player enrolls as a full time student, so gray-shirting is really a delayed version of red-shirting. Texas Tech, for instance, signed 34 players last February, but NCAA rules prevent them from enrolling more than 25 to start the fall. Some of those nine other players are gray-shirted this fall. They cannot enroll in college as full time students, can’t receive their scholarship, nor practice. It is like getting an extra year of practice, because most of these players don’t see the game field until two years later and they have the advantage of going through an extra spring practice.
The bottom line for a prospect is to know what your options are, because it clearly affects which schools may be most interested in recruiting you. Those schools who are "mixed out" on scholarships and are going to be forced to sign a small class are most interested in players who are willing to gray shirt. Those needing squad numbers will be more interested in players who can go green, because they can count you against their current scholarship limits. Just remember, you can’t go green if you can’t graduate in December and depending on your own maturity level, you may not be ready to make that jump to college as a 17 year old.