The basketball used in college hoops gives home team advantage without deflation


Andre Hollins had an interesting comment last night after Minnesota’s ugly, 52-49 loss at Nebraska.

When asked about a night where the Gophers shot just 9-for-19 from the floor and finished with only 49 points, Hollins told reporters, “They were loose rims and [Nebraska uses] Adidas balls, that has something to do with it.”

It’s an interesting comment giving all the scandal that’s currently swirling with the Deflatriots, but unlike Bill Belichick, Nebraska head coach Tim Miles isn’t doing anything nefarious here.

The official basketball of the NCAA is the Wilson Solution, but only gets used in NCAA events, meaning the NCAA tournament. In college basketball, the home team gets to pick whatever brand of ball they want to use so long as the ball is “spherical”, “eight-paneled” and has a “pebbled leather or composite cover” that is orange, red-orange or brown. The ball must be between 29.5 and 30 inches in diameter and between 20 and 22 ounces.

source: Getty Images
The ball from Tuesday’s Wisconsin game (Getty Images)

A lot of programs will use the Wilson Solution as prep for the NCAA tournament. But some, like Nebraska, will use a ball of the apparel company that sponsors them, meaning that Nike and Under Armour get plenty of use around the country. Some programs use Wilson’s other popular model — the Evolution — while others will use Spalding, the NBA’s official ball, or The Rock.

Wisconsin uses a brand called Sterling, and as far as I know, they are the only team in the country to use it. The Kohl Center is also one of the single most difficult venues to get a road win every year.

“I never really worried about the ball too much,” Ryan has said in the past. “But Sterling, the main reason is because they did our camps. They always delivered on time; they always delivered a good product; the balls stayed in shape.”

The ball that is used during a game matters. Some feel heavier than others. Some have stronger grip — to the point they almost feel sticky — while others can get really slippery once they get sweat on them. Wilsons feel soft in your hand. Spaldings and The Rocks can feel hard. This may not matter for 6-foot-11 dudes that can palm a medicine ball and dunk everything in sight, but for shooters and ball-handlers, it makes a huge difference, even if it’s just in their head. One of the lower level people on every staff — a team manager, a graduate assistant, maybe an ops guy at a smaller school — will be tasked with figuring out what kind of ball each opponent on their schedule will be using.

College basketball is the only major sport where this is an issue.

The NFL, the NBA and the MLB all have a standard ball that is used throughout the league. College football doesn’t, but each team is allowed to use their own football on offense.

Don’t think that doesn’t play a role in why it’s so hard to win on the road in college basketball.