OK, after reading for the 1,234,123rd time that someone feels "queasy" about Gardner's application for a Medical Redshirt and comparing it to what Saban does at Alabama I thought we could do a brief overview of the two things and get them out there in the open. If this debate comes up again, point the person to this post. (Mods, if this should be board rather than Diary throw it there)
First, the terms themselves:
Redshirt: An extra year of eligibility to play collegiate athletics. Most linemen redshirt in order to spend a year in a college weight program without playing any games. Student athletes are allowed 1 RS year. You cannot play in any games and get a normal RS. This scholarship counts against a team's total (85 for football)
M Example: Taylor Lewan RS'd his Freshman year to build his hatred for donkeys
Medical Redshirt: An extra year of eligibility to play collegiate athletics - determined by a governing body. A player receives an injury that is not career ending, but they will miss a long chunk of the season. The player can apply for a medical redshirt and gain another year of eligibility, the thought being "let's not punish kids for getting hurt and have the whole year on the field be a loss." The injury has to happen early in the season and the player cannot participate after the 1st (3 or 4?) few games of the football season. I'm not sure the rules for other sports. Occasionally across the college football landscape this practice will be used to get someone young some playing time in their first year without losing a RS year/whole year of eligibility. Many people are skeptical of Gardner's back injury - and this is why there is the application/vetting process. This scholarship counts against a team's total (85 for football)
M Example: Devin Gardner tweaked his back this year and could not play after the injury. He is applying for a Med Redshirt.
Medical Exemption: A Medical Exemption is a failsafe for athletes who have career-ending injuries and can no longer participate at all in collegiate athletics. A Medical Exemption allows the AD to continue to pay for a (now former) Injured Athlete's scholarship. This is a protection for athletes such that if you can no longer play, your scholarship does not disappear. The Athletic Department continues to pay for the scholarship but the scholarship does not count against team scholarship numbers (85 for football) or Title IX Numbers, or anything like that.
M Example: Antonio Bass destroyed his knee in like 300 ways. His playing career was done. His playing career was paying for his education (I don't know if he could have afforded Michigan one way or not without it). Rather than lose his scholarship he received a Medical Exemption and the AD paid for the Scholarship without the football team being punished.
Those are the terms and their definitions. The issue with the SEC and Saban and Oversigning is they are forcing kids who with injuries but NOT career ending injuries to take medical EXEMPTIONS (not RS). Saban is ending these kids' college careers, but still paying their tuition. Essentially he is kicking kids off the team, but sending them on their way with a scholarship... they just are off the football team and can't play NCAA sports ever again. If you look at the graph below, either Bama had 12x the career ending injuries of every other SEC team, or he's abusing the system.
I hope this provides some clarification as to the different terms and the issues and how they are different. When the Med Redshirt system is "abused" it benefits the student athlete by giving them another year of eligibility (Devin gets out from behind Denard for an extra year. Yay!) When the Med Exemption system is "abused" it benefits the program/team at the cost of the student athlete. The athlete is off the team and the team has another scholarship to hand out the next recruiting cycle.
Hope this helps the debate. See here also for more details: http://mgoblog.com/content/axeman-publicized
Also see the comments, some great points brought up as always.