Here’s a stupid fact about college basketball: The million-dollar sponsorship deals that schools sign with various apparel companies has created a sport in which there is no universal game ball. Nike schools use Nike balls, Adidas schools use Adidas balls, and so on.
The University of Maryland, which has a lucrative blood oath with Under Armour, has been drawing the ire of some opponents who feel the Under Armour ball has a noticeably different weight and feel. After a loss on the road to Maryland last month, Iowa guard Peter Jok told reporters that the ball felt “weird,” and that it was “heavy like a street ball.”
Wisconsin is set to play Maryland on Saturday, and the Under Armour balls are already a storyline. The team has been practicing with them all week in an effort to adjust to the different feel, and Wisconsin point guard Bronson Koenig has previously stated that Maryland’s balls are the only ones in the conference he has a real problem with. Forward Nigel Hayes expressed his displeasure with the balls at practice yesterday, and took some shots at the NCAA while he was at it:
“It’s definitely different,” Hayes said. “Personally, we don’t like it too much. I don’t like the Under Armour ball whatsoever. But that’s the way this amateur sports league is set up. We’re supposed to be having fun, but all the money is in these basketballs that colleges play with. But it’s an amateur sport, we’re just here for fun. It’s not really that serious. So I guess any ball should be OK.
“Maybe we should have a universal ball like the NBA. You don’t go to the Clippers’ stadium and play with a Nike and then go to Golden State and play with a Rawlings. But in this amateur sport of college, where money isn’t the goal—it’s the student education and experience that you get—we play with a million different basketballs.”
It may seem like Hayes and the others are picking nits, but it’s undeniably silly for players to have to spend three days adjusting to a new ball just because Maryland is in bed with a billion-dollar apparel company. The NCAA should just use one universal ball, and the fact that it won’t tells you quite a bit about its priorities.