Cheers to Wisconsin junior Nigel Hayes for speaking his mind and bringing to the table an issue dipped in some hypocrisy within college athletics.
Hayes is making news for his comments regarding baskeballs. As in: College hoops doesn’t have a universal ball. Each program determines which brand it plays with at home games. So Nike schools almost exclusively play with Nike balls, Adidas-affiliated schools do the same with Adidas balls, Under Armour partners as well and so on.
Speaking of Under Armour, it is the company coming under some attack here. Apparently, the ball is drastically different in feel from most others. Hayes brought this up this week, but he’s not the first. His comments came two weeks after Iowa players made mention of their issues with Under Armour balls following Iowa’s 74-68 loss at Maryland on Jan. 28.
Hayes really went in, though. Via Madison.com:
“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.”
Hayes wasn’t the only Badger to voice displeasure with the Under Armour ball.
“Out of the Big Ten, the Under Armour balls at Maryland is the only place I really, really didn’t like the balls,” Bronson Koenig told Madison.com.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin recently became yet another school to sign with Under Armour. UA is certainly fast becoming a legitimate rival to Nike and Adidas in the ever-heated shoe-company wars. So, yeah, that’s kind of awkward.
Hayes’ point is well-taken, though. Shoe companies’ contracts with schools has led to this unusual thing wherein college basketball has become this weird setup with basketballs changing on a game-by-game basis. It’s not a huge issue in the big picture, but it does highlight a problem worth addressing by NCAA president Mark Emmert. This is where players get caught between free market decisions being made by universities — with millions and millions of dollars on the table — and what should be constituted as fair play across the board.
If you’re curious, when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, every team is on a level field. The official ball of the NCAA is Wilson.