Medical Redshirt vs. Medical Exemption - an overview

Submitted by JeepinBen on February 3rd, 2011 at 11:29 AM

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:

Also see the comments, some great points brought up as always.


Undefeated dre…

February 3rd, 2011 at 11:45 AM ^

Thank you. BTW, you're already #5 in Google if you search for "Medical Hardship Football". For posterity you'll want to spell-check a few things. Couple questions:

1) With the Saban hardships, technically a player could transfer and play football for another team, correct?

2) Can a student athlete receive multiple medical redshirt seasons?


February 3rd, 2011 at 11:51 AM ^

spell-check complete. With regards to your questions:

1) I think that players can transfer rather than accept the medical exemption. I don't know if it has to be to an FCS school or if they can sit out the 1 year and transfer to D-I. 

2)I know students can receive a normal RS year, then get hurt and get a Med RS year... but that's rare. Some QB in the south recently got his 6th year of eligibility, Keenum maybe? I do not know if you can get multiple Med RS years. I know that for a 6th year (take a normal RS, then get hurt and apply for a Med RS) the application process is a lot harder/more strict. 

I know I didn't really answer your questions, hopefully someone else has more details on these


February 3rd, 2011 at 12:04 PM ^

You very, very, very rarely hear of someone getting a 6th year. You saying that it's a stricter process is a complete understatement. You essentially have to completely tear something in that fifth year, and if it doesn't happen really early you may still not get that 6th year (even where if you were applying for a 5th year, they would be much less strict).


February 3rd, 2011 at 12:30 PM ^

...QB was recently granted a 6th year of eligibility.

Houston quarterback Case Keenum has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will be allowed to play in 2011 after missing most of this past season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

The school announced Friday afternoon that the appeal was granted based on the knee injury, and a shoulder injury that prevented him from playing his true freshman season and resulted in a redshirt. In order to get a sixth year, you have to show two seasons lost because of injury.


February 3rd, 2011 at 12:27 PM ^

Nice write-up.  I never understood why people worried about the Gardener situation being like Alabama.  Alabama basically kicks "bad" kids off so that they can recruit better athletes, and that is clearly against the spirit of the rule.  What UM does is what most schools do when they have some young talent, and also happens when guys are hurt in the beginning of the season and, though they probably could come back later, the coaches would rather they rehab and be 100% for a whole year.


February 3rd, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

This is a good summary, but you may want to take another look at the terms you've used. In particular, your title (Medical Redshirt vs. Medical Hardship) is confusing because the term "medical redshirt" is not the official term for what Gardner is applying for. He's actually applying for a "medical hardship waiver"--which is commonly called a "medical redshirt." So you're actually making a comparison between medical hardship waivers and medical exemptions (also known as "medical disqualifications" or "medical noncounters"--see this document).

I have some doubts about Gardner getting a medical hardship waiver that have nothing to do with any comparisons with Saban. I don't claim to be an expert on this topic, but there are a number of sources online that imply that the injury has to be season-ending in order for the athlete to receive a medical hardship waiver. Gardner was listed as the backup for the Gator Bowl and so was presumably medically cleared to play. So how can his injury be considered season-ending? Or does "season" in this case not include any postseason play?

One other note: The rule for medical hardship waivers is that you cannot have participated in more than 30 percent of the contests on the team's schedule (and the injury has to occur in the first half of the season). The 30 percent rule applies across all NCAA sports, but of course the number of contests varies. For football, you can participate in 4 games and still apply for a medical hardship. (After calculating the 30 percent, any decimal is always rounded up, according to this source.)


February 3rd, 2011 at 2:15 PM ^

Your title is "Medical Redshirt vs. Medical Hardship" but your definition is for "Medical Exemption" rather than for "Medical Hardship." You might want to revise this in light of Raoul's contribution.



February 3rd, 2011 at 3:20 PM ^

Thanks, JeepinBen, this is great stuff. One thing, do you think you could add in a section about the greyshirt rule? I'm a little unclear about the concept, and I feel this would be a good place for a related discussion.


February 3rd, 2011 at 4:06 PM ^

A "Greyshirt" is an implied future scholarship. So someone who is "greyshirting" pays their own tution year 1 and "walks on" to the team, with the implied future scholarship kicking in year 2. A greyshirt's 5 years looks like this:

Year 1 - pay own tuition, walk on

Years 2-5  scholly

The candidates for greyshirts can afford their own tuition, are in need of a redshirt year anyway, and aren't looking anywhere else for school (maybe they have MAC offers, but want to go to Michigan).  This usually comes into play if we only have X scholarships available for this year, but this player is in the incoming class and REALLY wants to come to Michigan. It's one way of "making room" that's legit (assuming the school/coach does follow through with the scholarship).

It's essentially a redshirt year without a scholarship, athlete pays their own way and it doesn't count against scholarship limits until they get their scholarship (usually year 2).

Hope that helps.

It's pretty similar to "preferred walkon" status. Preferred walkon means "we don't have a scholarship for you now, but if we get one in the future that frees up, it's yours"


February 3rd, 2011 at 3:28 PM ^

Technically, the only true "Redshirt" is for athletes who do not participate for an entire season.

From the NCAA FAQ on the subject:

The term "redshirt" is used to describe a student-athlete who does not participate in competition in a sport for an entire academic year. If you do not compete in a sport the entire academic year, you have not used a season of competition. For example, if you are a qualifier, and you attend a four-year college your freshman year, and you practice but do not compete against outside competition, you would still have the next four years to play four seasons of competition.

Each student is allowed no more than four seasons of competition per sport. If you were not a qualifier, you may have fewer seasons of competition available to you. You should know that NCAA rules indicate that any competition, regardless of time, during a season counts as one of your seasons of competition in that sport. It does not matter how long you were involved in a particular competition (for example, one play in a football game, one point in a volleyball match); you will be charged with one season of competition.

The term Medical Redshirt is commonly used but in actuality is referred to by the NCAA as either a Medical Hardship Waiver or Medical Extension Waiver. These terms apply only to a student athlete's years of competition and eligibility.

What Saban makes liberal use of is actually covered in section of the NCAA bylaws. It basically says if you become so injured that you'll never play again, a school can keep you on scholarship (i.e., provide Financial Aid) without having it count towards the 85 limit.

Here's the actual text (a 'counter' is an athlete that counts toward scholarship limits): Counter Who Becomes Injured or Ill. A counter who becomes injured or ill to the point that he or she apparently never again will be able to participate in intercollegiate athletics shall not be considered a counter beginning with the academic year following the incapacitating injury or illness. Incapacitating Injury or Illness. If an incapacitating injury or illness occurs prior to a prospective student-athlete's or a student-athlete's participation in athletically related activities and results in the student-athlete's inability to compete ever again, the student-athlete shall not be counted within the institution's maximum financial aid award limitations for the current, as well as later academic years. How- ever, if the incapacitating injury or illness occurs on or after the student-athlete's participation in countable athletically related activities in the sport, the student-athlete shall be counted in the institution’s maximum financial aid limitations for the current academic year but need not be counted in later academic years. (Adopted: 1/10/91, Revised: 3/26/04, 9/18/07)


February 3rd, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

For a primer on eligibility, I actually found these PDFs from some Big 12 compliance seminars. They cover the whole issue of redshirt/hardship/etc. They're not too long and spell things out fairly clearly. I encourage everyone to take a look. They do not cover the practice of switching a counter to being a non-counter due to injury (Saban.)

Initial Counters

Medical Hardships

Extending the 5 yr clock


February 3rd, 2011 at 4:47 PM ^

It would indeed be useful to have a definitive, authoritative dissertation on the nuances of the NCAA rules regarding medical hardship waivers. Unfortunately, this diary comes up short in that regard. As has been mentioned, the terminology is incorrect, as there is no such thing as a "Medical Redshirt." The proper terms with reference to the issues at hand are "Medical Hardship Waiver" and "Medical Disqualification."

Here is a link to a free, downloadable .pdf version of the 2010-2011 NCAA Division I manual, for anyone who wants to sift through the fine print of the bylaws:…

To clarify one point of detail, the maximum number of games that a player can participate in is 30% (changed from 20% in 2007), rounded up. So for football, this is 4 games, and these must occur in the first half of the season (see rule 14.2.4).

What is not clear is the timeline for the decision. I have heard it stated that these things are not ruled upon until a player's eligibility has expired. Yet there have clearly been exceptions reported. It also appears that the application is made to the conference, not the NCAA, and the conference ruling is then submitted to the NCAA for final approval. I could not find any definitive guidelines for time frames on such rulings.

The other issue of ambiguity is the definition of "incapacitating" injury. If a player resumes practicing and suits up for games (i.e. - Gardner), does this invalidate a claim of incapacitation? Is this strictly a judgment call by the ruling authority or is the mere assertion of this claim via the submitted application accepted at face value? I don't think these questions have been fully answered and it may in fact vary by conference or on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps an actual insider could comment on these issues with definitive answers.


February 3rd, 2011 at 6:04 PM ^

1. In 2007 (unfortunately I can't find the official documentation), the method of approving medical hardships was changed.

Before that time, the application was made for a fifth year when the athlete's "regular" eligibility had been used up. The NCAA changed that rule (I believe after the 2007 football season) so that the application is now made at the completion of the regular season in which the athlete was injured.

The decision on Gardner should come relatively soon -- from my recent experiences working in college football media, the NCAA usually finalizes the football decisions in January. I believe they handle fifth- and sixth-year applications first so those guys know right away if they can continue to enroll in classes, then move on to underclassmen.

2. I believe you're correct about the waiver being submitted to the conference and then to the NCAA. I don't have any documentation, but that seems to the process from the applications I've monitored previously.

3. The language used on the NCAA form is that the injury must stop the athlete from "competing" -- it doesn't mention that a player can't practice, and that makes sense. How would you know if you're capable of playing if you don't test the injury in practice? Going a bit further with this point, suiting up for a game also shouldn't have any impact on the ruling as long as you don't see the field during a game.

4. This medical harship form I found -- which is actually from the Southland Conference but presumably is the same form submitted by all conferences to the NCAA -- says that the "playing season" stretches from the first game (obviously) to the end of a "declared season, including any conference championships."

Interestingly, this does not mention postseason play (although it seems hard to believe that you could play in a bowl game and still get a medical redshirt).

My reading of the NCAA bylaws and forms is that if you don't play in more than 30% of games and you have medical documentation that you were not able to play in the final 70-plus% of games because of that injury, it doesn't matter whether you practiced and/or suited up for games.

So ... all things considered, I'll be fairly surprised if Gardner doesn't get his medical hardship.


February 3rd, 2011 at 7:12 PM ^

Thanks for the futher clarification. I hope you are right in your assessment of the Gardner situation.Ricardo Miller appears to be in a similar position, although I have not heard specific mention that a medical hardship waiver has been applied for on his behalf.


February 3rd, 2011 at 7:30 PM ^

A couple of points on that form you found:

  • When the form talks about a "declared season, including any conference championships," I believe that is only for the purpose of determining whether the athlete has exceeded the 30 percent threshold. Postseason play (other than a conference championship) isn't mentioned because that isn't included in that particular calculation. In any event I think this is a moot point. Gardner himself said in this Free Press article that playing in the Gator Bowl would eliminate any chance of him getting a medical hardship waiver.
  • The form says you have to supply: "Contemporaneous medical documentation (i.e. training room notes, schedule of appointments, chronology of treatment) establishing the SAs inability to compete as a result of the injury." So they'll have to supply evidence that Gardner was unable to compete at the Gator Bowl, yet he was the publicly declared backup QB for that game. That seems questionable to me, so I guess I don't share your optimism about him getting the waiver.


February 3rd, 2011 at 9:54 PM ^

Your interpretation of the "declared end of the season" sounds right -- that's probably just used for calculating the 30% limit.

As for Gardner's case, I guess it might depend on the level of "incapacitation." What if Michigan's documentation showed that he was still having back problems but, as the only other scholarship QB on the roster other than Denard, he could have been forced into action?

Or what if he was physically incapable of playing through the end of the regular season but then was healed by the time of the bowl game? It seems like that would happen sometimes. Or in another example, what if Woolfolk's leg had healed enough that he would have been physically capable of playing in the bowl game?

It would seem stupid (although not entirely unlikely) for the NCAA to say, "Well, it doesn't matter that you missed 9/10/11/12 games in the regular season -- if you're healthy enough to play in a game at the end, you can't have a medical redshirt." The NCAA people could be real dicks about it and go by the letter of the law, but I don't think they would do that and deny a waiver to a kid just because he happened to get healthy during the monthlong pre-bowl layoff.


February 3rd, 2011 at 8:13 PM ^

It absolutly amazes me how the SEC is able to openly bend, violate, and work around the rules of the NCAA. I know they generate a lot of money for the game but this is ridiculous!


February 4th, 2011 at 5:10 AM ^

I thought it was frustrating when people were saying that it was sketchy that Gardner was getting a medical red shirt. I don't think that someone has to have a 'season ending injury' to get one, but if they're going to miss a large portion of the season then I think it's ok to apply for one. It doesn't seem fair to have Gardner play in the first 3 or 4 (don't remember how many exactly), then have him sit our 5 or 6 for his injury and then play in the last few and count that as a whole season. I appreciate the work you put into this diary.


February 4th, 2011 at 2:04 PM ^

Unless the NCAA committee to decide Devan's case is comprised of Detroit Free Press writers, this should be a non-issue.

With all of the crap the SEC gets away with, I would be furious if they deny his waiver.

Am I right in understanding that this won't be decided until his senior year, or will we know sometime soon if he gets the extra year of eligibility?


February 4th, 2011 at 2:21 PM ^

It'll be decided soon -- the decision is made in the offseason after the injury, usually sometime in January.

It used to be that a decision wasn't made until a guy's senior year, but the NCAA changed that in 2007 (see my post above).