Players and coaches in the NCAA Tournament may be breathing life into a new controversy: Inflategate.
After last weekend's first and second-round games were plagued by low shooting percentages from 3-point range, murmurs began about whether slick or excessively inflated basketballs may have been the culprit. Even the tourney's top overall seed, Alabama, has been airing it out inside the locker room during March Madness.
“We've kind of had the discussion as a staff,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said Thursday. “You can pump up any ball to be too hard. It would be great if the referees actually made sure it was within the guidelines of how hard it's supposed to be because, obviously, if you pump it up to where it's a rock, you're not going to shoot as well."
It's certainly not the first time balls or air pressure have been questioned in the sports world.
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After home run rates increased following the 2016 Major League Baseball season, some pitchers complained the baseballs didn't feel right. Justin Verlander even contended the balls were juiced. In 2021, MLB responded by announcing it had decided to make balls lighter and less bouncy.
In January 2015, seven-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP Tom Brady was accused of using deflated footballs in the AFC championship game. Brady was eventually suspended for four games and the New England Patriots were fined $1 million and forfeited two draft picks.
Thus far, nobody is all that pumped up about the NCAA's basketballs, but the topic has come up in conversation.
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“I just feel like sometimes the balls are a little too bouncy,” Crimson Tide guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “I don't think it's affected me personally this tournament, but you know, it's been something the guys talk about in the locker room.”
So far, Quinerly and his teammates haven't been adversely affected by the balls.
Oats said Alabama's team equipment manager has been collecting balls from different manufacturers and the team practices with whatever brand is expected to be used in its next game. One solution, Oats believes, would be for the NCAA to establish a standardized ball for all Division I games.
"(Assistant coach) Charlie Henry was in the NBA and he's like ‘I have no idea why college doesn’t have a uniform ball, like I couldn't imagine. You're in the NBA, everybody plays with the same ball every night,'" Oats said. “I do think it would be a lot better if the NCAA mandated a particular ball.”
But Oats believes the shooting woes in this year's tourney have nothing to do with balls, air pressure or shoes.
“I think defenses get better,” he said. “You look at the teams that are still winning, most of them have pretty good defenses. When the defenses get better, the shooting percentages go down.”