To redshirt, or not to redshirt.
That is the question that perplexes NCAA coaches and players. The system in which the NCAA has the power to save collegiate athletes a year of eligibility to hone their undeveloped skills or give them another year to compete due to injury is not without various benefits and drawbacks. Freshmen who redshirt earn an extra year to condition their bodies and become accustomed to their coaches’ systems, along with the rigors of NCAA athletics.
The decision to redshirt athletes varies heavily depending on not only the sport, but the gender of the player as well.
“It doesn’t happen as much in women’s sports as in men’s,” UCSB softball Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “We recruit girls to compete right away. In sports like football, there is so much more to learn. In softball it’s much different.”
This year’s softball team enjoyed perhaps their most successful campaign in school history largely because of a strong core of young players. Freshman or sophomores held 10 of the 17 roster spots.
While coaches and players do not always necessarily agree with decisions to redshirt, most of them tend to agree that the long-term benefits outweigh the drawbacks. According to men’s basketball Assistant Coach David Campbell, the decision to redshirt an athlete is a long process that is analyzed based on several different factors.
“It’s typically one of two things; if the player is not physically mature yet, they can redshirt to gain strength and learn the system,” said Campbell. “If there are already a lot of players at a given position in front of a new player, we sometimes decide to redshirt them because they wouldn’t get a lot of minutes and it would better benefit them.”
Most NCAA athletes are typically heavily recruited by several schools during high school and are likely chomping at the bit to embark on their collegiate athletic careers. The thought of sitting out their first year is not always appealing.
Baseball player David Figoni, who transferred from the College of San Mateo his junior year, wasn’t exactly ecstatic about redshirting during his first year at UCSB, but he is reaping the benefits in the long run.
“I was a little anxious to play at first,” Figoni said. “I want to say I was frustrated, but I learned to accept the role even though I really wanted to play; I knew I could have come in and helped.”
This year Figoni, a utility infielder, started less than half the games, but because of his extra year of eligibility, he has a much more promising future in Gaucho athletics.
“It really helped me out. Thank God I have another year of eligibility. I feel like I’m always improving,” Figoni said. “Hopefully I will start next year; it’s definitely very beneficial to have the system in place.”
Figoni also credits his redshirt season to helping him understand UCSB baseball and Head Coach Bob Brontsema’s system.
“Coach Brontsema definitely has his own style of coaching. I got to learn his game; it helped me a ton,” Figoni said.
Figoni isn’t the only player who has benefited from the redshirt system. Theo Brunner, a freshman men’s volleyball player who is redshirting this year, attributes his redshirt season to helping him become a more physical presence on the court.
“It’s pretty sweet. I had a season to get bigger. I used to be pretty scrawny; now I’m getting pretty ripped,” Brunner said. “They used to call me ‘Beanpole’ and ‘Connecticut Soybean’ in the locker room, but now I feel like I’ve earned my spot and have started to dominate in practice. I’ve put on 11 pounds this year.”
Additionally, Brunner used his redshirt season to become accustomed to the UCSB volleyball program and benefit from the professional coaches around him.
“I’m from Connecticut, where there’s really no good volleyball,” Brunner said. “I got to really learn my position. It’s awesome; the coaches here are great.”
Not all athletes, however, are as receptive to being redshirted. Naturally, after being recruited and dominating in high school, some athletes aren’t always content with taking to the sidelines for a year. One women’s water polo player, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, was increasingly discontent with her role as a redshirt.
“It sucks, we don’t practice at all, really; you don’t even have to go to practice,” she said. “You’re never really told about your future on the team; it’s really open-ended.”
The player later added that she felt like the B-team had been neglected and that redshirting has been a huge drawback.
“I’m in the worst shape of my life,” she said.
Brunner, however, felt as if the freshman players and redshirts are treated the same as everyone else.
“I’ve been treated really well. I’ve learned so much,” he said.
Regardless of the disappointment sometimes shown by athletes, most coaches are still in favor of the redshirting system.
“I think every freshman would benefit from redshirting. We usually sit down the players and analyze how much better they would be in their fifth year as opposed to a true freshman,” Campbell said. “Basketball is very time-consuming sport and takes a long time to learn. The extra time can help the athletes ease their time with the extra year of school.”
The system also allows players who have sustained injuries to sit out a year to heal while keeping eligibility. While the system doesn’t ensure that all players will benefit or be happy with decisions to sit out a year, coaches and athletes alike will continue to use the program to meet their respective goals.