While football teams across the state wonder whether they will be playing in the fall, the spring, or at all, they are also looking at potential purchases of new equipment to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the field.
The CIAC will meet with the Department of Public Health on Thursday evening to discuss recommendations for proceeding with fall sports. Presently, all fall sports are on pause from conditioning and practices until Monday.
Many football programs are looking at purchasing individual bags for players to take equipment home, as well as purchasing water bottles and towels for each player.
Some teams have already purchased masks or neck gaiters for their players to wear while conditioning — during water breaks or while talking to each other — this past month.
One of the biggest potential purchases programs are looking at is adding splash guards to their face masks.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rules considerations for the 2020 football season, cloth face masks are allowed and “plastic shields covering the entire face (unless integrated into the face mask and attached to the helmet and clear without the presence of any tint) shall not be allowed during the contest.”
Meaning that splash shields integrated into the face mask and attached to the helmet will be allowed to be used this season.
Splash guards have become a popular item that teams are considering purchasing for this season.
In July, the NFL announced a partnership with Oakley under which all teams will be given the new Oakley Mouth Shield to help try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The players are testing it during training camp.
Rockville coach Erick Knickerbocker said he has spoken with the team’s vendor and the program was quoted between $3,000 and $4,000 to get splash guards for members of the team.
While the Oakley Mouth Shield is not being sold on its website, Schutt Sports advertises a splash guard on its site that costs $24.99 for the full shield or $14.99 for the top or bottom shield.
Knickerbocker said they would do everything they could to get something that works, but it’s not that simple.
“It’s just tough because we don’t know enough,” he said. “We don’t even know if we’re playing.”
In most years, programs and their booster clubs relied on fundraisers to help pay for new equipment, jerseys, technology and other team needs. This offseason was different, with the state shutdown preventing many teams from hosting annual fundraisers.
“I know Platt High School doesn’t have (the money),” Platt coach Jason Bruenn said. “I can’t talk about other teams.”
“That’s going to be our pregame meal (money), so we’re not going to feed our kids before the game?” Bruenn said after being told the potential cost for face shields. “This isn’t the U.S. government. We don’t print money at Platt.”
Knickerbocker said his team is still trying to pay for things they have had in the past.
“We are trying to pay for Hudl,” he said, referring to the subscription-based video depot for teams’ game film, often also used to helps players with the college recruiting process.
At Stamford, coach Jamar Greene said they are encouraging players to get the guards for the face masks themselves.
If the kids can’t afford them, Greene said the team will hold fundraisers.
One benefit Greene said was that the team doesn’t need to buy a lot of new helmets for this season and could possibly use that money to purchase splash guards.
Some teams have had their players wear masks while they are at conditioning, while some have suggested wearing neck gaiters.
“I have no problem with it,” Notre Dame-West Haven coach Joe DeCaprio said of his team potentially wearing masks or neck gaiters under their helmet. “I do get a little worried with the mask when it is extremely warm out for breathability.”
On top of the expense of the new equipment, coaches have concerns about whether the splash guards would make a difference.
In a press release from Schutt after the creation of the splash shield, the company said: “While the Splash Shield will offer some protection, it can only limit exposure to airborne droplets that the athlete encounters during play.”
McMahon coach Jeff Queiroga said he hasn’t seen the NFL or any college football teams that are playing mandate the use of splash guards so far.
“If some science comes out and says they’re effective, that’s great,” he said. “But we won’t have that proof any time soon.”
Queiroga has received emails from parents with links to purchase splash guards, asking whether the school would be purchasing them. He said the program was able to purchase neck gaiters for every member of the team because a parent of a player works for a company that produces them.
“They wore them during conditioning, during water breaks and breaks,” he said. “At least those they can wear in school.”
If teams decide to move forward with the splash guards, Queiroga wonders whether they will be able to get them in time.
“I also imagine what the supply and demand would be on those,” he said. “Would they be able to pump them out in time?”
But when it comes down to whether the face shields will help them move forward and be able to play, the coaches are willing to follow protocols.
“Whatever the health department suggests, and Stamford and our athletic director comes up with, I’m fine with,” Greene said. “Anything to protect our kids. I’m all for whatever is best for kids.”