In sports, usually at the high school and college levels in the United States and Canada, members of a team who are not the main players in a competition (such as a football, basketball, or baseball game) are called junior varsity players. The main players comprise the varsity team. Nearly all Junior Varsity players are in their freshman and sophomore years in school though occasionally upper classmen may play on JV teams. Especially skilled or physically mature freshmen and sophomores may compete at the Varsity level. At larger schools, there may be two Junior Varsity teams for some sports, with a lower level team typically consisting of freshmen only.
Some teams require participation on a junior varsity team before being eligible to try out for a varsity team. These players can provide the varsity team with extra depth, with their service as back-up players.
Many sports teams have assistant coaches responsible for developing the talent of junior varsity players.
Often, a team will have many talented players (including those who could start on many other varsity teams), but the coach is unable to come up with a rotation that allows everyone to play.
The decision of when to play junior varsity players in a one-sided game is often at the coach's discretion; this depends on his/her strategy, the time remaining in the game, the point margin, and the situation. Sometimes, the coach of a losing team – especially if they are not that good or have many inexperienced players – will continue to play his main players against the winning team's junior varsity players to give his team experience.
However, if for instance in a basketball game, if the winning team is ahead by a substantial margin with late in the game, fans can usually expect the coaches of both the winning and losing teams to "empty their benches" — that is, remove the main players and play junior varsity players for the remainder of the game. The junior varsity players can impress coaches during this "garbage time" in hopes of gaining more playing time in subsequent games.
In some sports, such as tennis and golf, a junior varsity meet will take place simultaneously with the varsity event; however, the scores are separately tabulated. In track and field, a junior varsity "heat" of a particular event may take place either before or after the varsity "heat" (again, separate tabulation of meet results).
Quite often, an underclassman who plays on a junior varsity team one year gains enough experience to be one of the main players the next season. A team's head coach will often attend a junior varsity game to evaluate talent and decide if a player is ready to play in the main part of a varsity game.
Junior varsity teams may or may not travel with or take the field/court with the varsity team. This is often dependent on the size of the varsity team and the availability of transportation.
The act of a coach inserting junior varsity players into a game is often called "emptying the bench."