Wrapping athletic tape not just around the ankle, but over the sock and around and under the shoe as well, is a common practice in both college and professional football. If you're working toward playing college ball and are becoming accustomed to wrapping your feet during high school play and in other athletic pursuits, you may be interested in the burgeoning controversy over this routine. It's not about whether the practice, known as spatting, is effective for ankle protection. Instead, it's about interference with marketing.
People are generally familiar with the practice of taping the ankle under the sock to provide extra stabilization. Spatting may provide additional support that helps to prevent sprains for athletes in general, although there is some disagreement among trainers about this. Sometimes spatting is considered medically necessary when a player has an existing ankle injury or is at increased risk for these injuries.
Research published in 2009 found that after 20 and 40 minutes of exercise, spatting does not loosen the way taping does. This makes it more effective at keeping the ankle stable, which should make it better than taping for preventing ankle injury.
Some players just like the way this form of ankle and shoe taping looks.
Contracts with shoe manufacturers may restrict the number of spatted shoes per game. The problem involves tape covering the shoe's logo. The shoe manufacturer has spent a large amount of money with the intent that viewers will see those logos. If the shoe supplier finds that more shoes are taped than the restriction allows, the school can be issued a monetary penalty from the contract.
There also can be problems if a player wants to spat both ankles even if only one is injured. The contract may prohibit that, but players and coaches know that the opposing team may go after the injured ankle.
At least one coach has opted out of this type of contract. Auburn University in Alabama switched from Nike to New Balance shoes in 2005 rather than ask players to stop taping over their shoes.
The NFL doesn't have these restrictions, but individual players might if they have endorsements with a shoe manufacturer.
What This Means for You
For now, continue to use and buy athletic tape for this purpose if you believe it offers some benefit and if your school doesn't have a problem with it. Before you decide where to attend college, learn whether spatting is allowed. That probably won't influence your decision on which school to attend, but you'll know whether you need to get used to playing without the tape.