Attention seems to pursue football Equipment Managers whether they are seen tightening a helmet screw during a nationally televised game or being featured in a student newspaper.
But surely the Equipment Managers who care for the soccer teams, the tennis teams, the lacrosse teams, and more deserve the spotlight, too, right?
Is there a difference?
Does it take something special, unique to be an Olympic Sports Equipment Manager that Football Equipment Managers don’t have? Vice Versa?
A Different Animal
Can an Equipment Manager swing from one job to another?
We talked with several Equipment Managers to find out.
First, we asked Kansas State Head Football Equipment Manager Al Cerbe – Is there a difference between an Equipment Manager for football and one for other sports?
“The Olympic Sports Equipment Managers, they are just such a different animal,” Al says. “Will (Rodecap) handles 12 sports!”
Will Rodecap, Head Equipment Manager in Manhattan, has held both jobs. He was a football Equipment Manager for 17 years. He stepped out of the job for a few years, then came back.
“Some days I miss the day to day grind of football, but some days I do not,” he says. “What people really can’t grasp is the volume of what we handle on a daily basis. The volume we have to deal with is just amazing.”
Though football accounts for a large percentage of time and money spent through the equipment department, it sometimes gets more attention than warranted.
“We 39,000 items scheduled to be distributed,” Will said. “More than half of that is non-football apparel.”
Then, there is the core of the job – maintaining equipment. In football, that work accounts for much of what Equipment Managers and Student Equipment Managers do each day. But the same is true in hockey – Will uses the word “daunting” to describe the equipment maintenance work for hockey programs.
And, of course, the Equipment Manager must learn to hear clearly from all coaches and communicate with each of them effectively. Yet it is different with O-Sport coaches than with football coaches.
A Different kind of Relationship
Harley Warren does both at Southern Mississippi. His primary job is football, but he also handles equipment management duties for men’s and women’s track, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s soccer.
“A lot of our O-Sports coaches come from smaller programs and many of them were their own equipment managers before,” Harley said. “They are sometimes surprised by the service we offer.
“They are so appreciative.”
Maybe it’s the scarcity of help they are used to and the dramatic change they experience, but that appreciation translates into a certain relationship with staff.
“For the most part the O-Sports coaches and people are sometimes easier to deal with and nicer to deal with,” Harley said. “They are more personable.”
That appreciation can lead to a different kind of rapport between coaches and equipment staff.
“I have a relationship with my O-Sport coaches that builds,” he said. It’s not just that the Olympic Sports’ coaches aren’t used to, or aren’t expecting, the help, but that they often have longer tenures at one school so they get to know the more permanent staff.
Tenure makes a Difference
“With football coaches, they seem to come and go so frequently and they also have 300 other student athletes and coaches and staff to deal with—players who come and go and change so frequently, that it is hard to get to everyone,” Harley said. “For the O-Sports folks, there is less equipment and usually less kids.”
Will at K-State sees it, too, but not exactly the same way as Harley tells it.
“My relationship with coaches and student athletes in the non-football sports is different – I don’t really work daily with them. There are very few you see day to day like in football.”
Coaches of the “smaller” sports take on much of what an Equipment Manager would do, and that’s okay.
“Some coaches want to handle things the way they want to, and as long as they check out with me, that’s fine,” Will says. In football, the Equipment Manager often dictates how coaches will handle certain things due to requirements of the job and the specialized knowledge of the Equipment Manager.
For many of the non-football sports, the job of the Equipment Manager comes down to issuing equipment at the beginning of the season’s practice, then issuing the apparel – uniforms, practice cloths, travel duds, and such.
Part of the Team
Indeed, coaches in the different sports are somewhat different, but two stand out as unique – at least to Sonny Sanfilippo, Assistant Director of Athletic Equipment Services at San Diego State University.
“Football coaches are completely different—so are soccer coaches,” says Sonny.
“In football you are committing yourself as part of the team. When they are here, you are here. If they are out at practice, you are out at practice,” he said. “The equipment demands that you are there and ready to fix it or replace it or maintain it.”
“When they travel, you travel. Other sports can be pretty self-sufficient.”
Sonny works with Aztecs’ men’s soccer, women’s rowing, men’s golf, and does apparel orders for other teams as well.
“Time is the biggest difference. In football you are immersed in the team itself.”
And the attention. Football draws the attention.
Mostly the Same, but Ratios Differ
Matthew Althoff, Director of Equipment Room Operations at Virginia, says the general duties are much the same whether you are an Equipment Manager for football or other sports.
“It’s mostly the same stuff, but football is usually a higher profile. You deal with a large number of athletes on the team and more requirements that direct your job.”
Though football requires near-constant hands-on work, the ratio of Equipment Managers to student athletes is higher in other sports.
With basketball, it’s nearly one to one.
But lacrosse and soccer, it may be as high as one Equipment Manger to 30 student athletes.
At Virginia, there are typically 12 Student Equipment Managers for the football team while the men’s basketball team supports 10 and the women’s hoops requires eight.
The Focus on Football
“More of the visibility and the interest in university sports is in football, and you have more demand for helmets to look good on TV, plus you have to maintain them properly. For college golf or tennis, they are just not on television and there is not that demand or expectation,” Matt says.
Chuck Hall, Director of Equipment Operations at Louisville, says the differences are in the view – the view from the outside and inside.
“There is a microscope on football – everything is studied. Football is high profile and generally has more highly paid coaches. There is more pressure because there is a spotlight on football.”
Yes, the football program is usually the one with the interest – interest from the school, the student body, the administrators, the fans, the alumni, and, for the DI schools, the networks and the conference officials and, well, it seems, everyone.
“With the O Sports the desire to win and have success is just as strong, but the pressure may be a little less,” Harley, at Southern Miss, says.
Control and Influence
One of the big differences is control. In football, an Equipment Manager has a certain level of authority over aspects of a program. Maintenance of football equipment is not as subjective as in other sports. There are rules and expectations and requirements and accountability and more. When an Equipment Manager moves from a decision-making, authoritative position in the football locker room to a lesser position in the O Sports, it take some adjustment.
“It’s hard to lose the control factor you have in football,” Will says. “It’s tough to give up what you think is the right way to do it.”
Take, for example, men’s golf. The team comes in, the Equipment Manager measures them and sizes them up for gear, and then orders and issues the proper equipment. The team is good to go for the entire year.
“You’ve got to be able to adapt and understand and relate,” Will says. Even then, there are some student athletes you just don’t ever see.
“I may only see some student athletes once in their career—when they get their letter jacket,” says Will.
That kind of versatility in the job, in communicating with different people, can provide great opportunities to grow.
“It’s extremely beneficial to have your hands in several sports and with both female and male sports as well,” Sonny, at SDSU, says. “It helps you learn how to relate to a variety of people and the more you do that the more successful you are in whatever you do.”
Harley, at SMU, says the largest team outside the football team may be the track team with 80 student athletes – half or even a fourth of the size of the gridiron guys.
And, football takes hands-on time and lots of it. Football is every day. Every day for Spring ball, every day for camps in the summer, every day from August through Thanksgiving and often right up until Christmas.
“For the O Sports, I don’t usually go to practice for those. I do try to make it to the games and matches, but I’m just not involved daily. Mostly it’s meeting with the coaches and ordering the equipment for them. They even find their own student managers and give us their info.”
Other sports just do not demand as much time. Some coaches, Harley says, he sees just a couple times a month – and that’s during their season!
“They can be fairly self-sufficient.”
Reports, Paperwork, and Audits
And, then there is the record-keeping—an increasingly vital aspect of the job. There are requirements and requests and reports. It seems, a record of everything needs filing these days.
“Yes, we’ll get your equipment,” Will says at K-State. “Yes, but we also protect you and set you up with what you need in case an audit occurs.”
The job, he says, has changed in the past few decades, and even more so in the past few years.
“You might think the Equipment Manager job is about dispensing gear – and that is important, but we are now the front line for audits and compliance issues.”
Talk about daunting.
When your brand partner sends you 40,000 or 100,000 or 300,000 items, from socks to jerseys to practice shorts and thousands of T-shirts, you must now know who was issued what and how many and when it was issued and where it is now.
Still, there is nothing like it. Interacting with the coaches, getting to meet the incoming freshmen student athletes and watching them struggle on the fields and courts and seeing them grow as people through their senior year and the victories and the struggles, it's all a great view from a close perspective.
“It’s still a lot of fun,” Will says.