It feels like the COVID pandemic is largely over in most places around the country, but there are still plenty of lingering effects and some of them are causing coaches to panic a bit.
With the supply chain interrupted and a lot of companies short staffed, everything from our beloved game day coaching gear, to uniforms, and even helmets are being impacted.
Earlier this year, sources shared with FootballScoop that Nike shut down orders on one of their mid-level jersey offerings, even refusing to fill a newly placed order from a major city school district located on the west coast prepared that was prepared to place a large $2 million uniform order to outfit schools under their umbrella.
We were told Nike refused to fill the order because it came it after they made the call to shut down those types of orders for the year. (Imagine being the salesperson that lost out on that commission).
There was a short window for some programs that took a bit of luck to get your order to through, but the catch was that you had to order Nike's top-of-the-line uniform offering that was significantly more expensive.
Coaching clothing has had a lot of stock issues as well, with all the major brand companies suffering from low stock, backorders, and sales people with very little clarity on when new stock will be arrive.
While frustrating, those are pretty minor when you consider that coaches across the country are finding themselves about to hit a crisis point in regards to helmets.
Obviously, helmet availability has direct implications to player safety.
Follow enough coaches and you'll start to see messages like this from concerned coaches scrambling to fill their helmet needs.
From what coaches have shared, a number of helmet reconditionings were taking much longer than the process has been in the past with some helmets sent back at the end of the fall and coaches hadn't gotten them back by the time school was getting out for the summer.
Riddell shut down orders on at least two of their entry-level helmets (Speed Icon - $369.99 per helmet and Speed Classic Icon - $349.99 per helmet) a few weeks ago, and had a short window for programs to order the SpeedFlex version (sticker price $469.99) before schools essentially had to order the SpeedFlex's with the data tracking (around $550.00) embedded OR their brand new Axiom helmet that requires a custom fitting and carries a $750 price tag per helmet.
For a lot of programs, $500+ per helmet just isn't feasible.
Meanwhile, competing helmet company Schutt was taking months to deliver simple replacement parts for their helmets and is dealing with a lot of the same issues, from what coaches have shared.
In an industry where there are really two "major" manufacturers (VICIS went bankrupt a few years ago and has since been bought by a New York based investment firm, and Xenith hasn't been immune to ordering issues either), both company's workforce issues and problems at the factory are being felt by a lot of football coaches right now.
Many coaches are scrambling to come up with creative solutions.
We're entering a fall season where coaches that have spent the past 9 months or so trying to build up participation in their program are facing a hard limit on the helmets they have available for kids. The ripple effect is that they'll be faced with a few tough decisions: 1) Possibly rent or buy helmets from area programs that are fortunate enough to have extras, or 2) they'll have to turn players away or cut guys.
For a sport where numbers have been declining at the high school level for a lot of programs, the last thing coaches want is to have to turn away kids based on helmet availability, but that is the reality that some coaches may face this off season.
Prepare to see mismatched helmets on sidelines, and be willing to help out coaches in your area in need of additional helmets if you find yourself with extras.
The continued growth of our game this fall may depend on it.