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Shades of Gray: The Abridged Guide to Grayshirting.

Devoted commenter fotodog asked recentlyabout the term "gray shirting" as it applies to college football recruiting. I thought it might be good for us to review the meaning of this term, especially as it relates to the University of Georgia and the 2008 football recruiting class.

First, some background. The NCAA does not officially recognize the "gray shirt" designation. It's a creature of the recruiting process.The NCAA however considers a student athlete a "full time student" at the point that the student is enrolled for 12 credit hours. Once a student-athlete takes 12 hours, he or she is "on the clock", so to speak, because the NCAA allows you 5 years to complete your 4 years of eligibility. Of course, many players take one "redshirt" year in which they do not compete, or compete in less than 20% of their team's season (3 games) and get a waiver from the NCAA because of injury ( a so-called "medical redshirt").

But what if you could postpone the clock starting on your 5 years of eligibility? That's where the "gray shirt" comes in. A gray shirt enrolls for fewer than the 12 hours required to trigger the clock, usually during the January following his graduation from high school, rather than August. This has a couple of advantages for the player. One is that he can get bigger, faster and stronger without expending his eligibility. It gives him roughly 5 and 1/2 years in the program rather than 5. It's a little like a year in prep school, only better because he can be on campus, train with his future teammates, and generally get acclimated to the campus environment. Second, a player who completes, for example, 9 hours during that winter semester, gains a significant head start in maintaining adequate academic progress throughout his collegiate career.

So why doesn't everybody want to gray shirt? One reason is financial. If you are not a full time student you generally are ineligible for athletic and other institutional financial aid. That means that many students simply cannot afford to do it. Also, gray shirts, unlike redshirts, are not eligible to compete. While you can "burn" a redshirt if the need arises or a guy makes significant progress early in the year, you can't do the same with a gray shirt. Ineligible means ineligible.

Also, a gray shirt really only defers a scholarship. The grayshirted player counts against the next year's scholarships. Of course, it's possible that before that scholarship has to be counted that a member of the preceeding year's signing class reneges on a commitment, doesn't get admitted to the school in question( a la Jamar Cheney or Michael Grant), or doesn't get approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse (see roughly 40% of Auburn's 2007 class). In that event, schools have the scholarship to give that they originally thought they didn't.

But the bottom line is probably that these kids don't put in the hours that they do practicing, training and watching film to not be able to participate. Players want to play, or at least have the chance to play, and it's a hard sell getting many to gray shirt even when it's best for their long term athletic and academic development.

Why is all this relevant, aside from fotodog's question? Because the gross numbers indicate that the University of Georgia does not have any scholarships left for 2008. However, UGA coaches are reputed to be visiting Buford defensive tackle Omar Hunter tomorrow, and Tucker cornerback Neiko Lipscomb is apparently still interested in Georgia. For one of these players to sign with Georgia, somebody already on the applecart is going to have to give up his seat.

The thinking among some is that Xavier Avery could gray shirt, because he's likely to be playing rookie league baseball somewhere come August anyway. He could then enroll in January, work out with the football team, etc. and be ready for 2009 if he wanted to (and were allowed to) play pro baseball and college football at the same time. Avery would be a prime candidate because the financial deterrent to grayshirting may not exist for him. If he is drafted highly enough to not play college baseball, he'll have earned a signing bonus sufficient to keep him in workout gear and protein shakes for the forseeable future, sans financial aid.

Another option I've heard batted around is Bryce Ros. He's a "tweaner" who could stand to mature some physically, and his parents could probably afford to foot his tuition bill for a year of in-state tuition, room and board. Plus, the thinking goes, the Ros family probably has more allegiance to the 'Dawgs than your average recruit's family, so they might could be convinced to do it.

I'm not certain either of these is totally credible as an option. For one thing, no player wants to sign, then cool his heels in the weight room for a year. That is asking a lot. It also can be viewed by some as a bit of a slight. I know if I were the one guy out of a 29 man signing class who was asked to grayshirt, I might question my place in the pecking order, too.

Both scenarios also assume that Coach Richt and his staff want to go down the road to gray shirting. They've not done so in the past, choosing instead to use the scholarships they have now on the best players available right now, all while understanding that some good ones are going to get away, and some of them are going to go to Auburn, South Florida or St. Bulkowicz's School for Sportsbloggers. Arithmetic is a real mother that way.

Also, there's a very real chance that the rumored departure of tight ends coach Dave Johnson for West Virginia would send Dwayne Allen to Florida State (which completed a total of 16 passes to its tight ends last season) to serve as a second fullback. I think that happening only really relieves the scholarship pressure we're already under, rather than opening up another slot. But nobody outside the Butts-Mehre Building really knows right now.

What we do know is that if the coaches can hang onto the ones they've got, we'll be looking at probably the best recruiting class of the Mark Richt era, at least insofar as these things can be measured without the benefit of hindsight.