Duke women’s basketball head coach Kara Lawson claims a men’s ball was used during the first half of the Blue Devils’ 70-57 loss at Florida State on Sunday.
Lawson told reporters following her team’s 53-44 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday that Duke players were “complaining about the ball” throughout the first half of the game against Florida State before the officials noticed the mistake and switch to a women’s ball at halftime. For reference, a women’s ball is 28.5 inches in circumference and weighs around 20 ounces, while a men’s ball is 29.5 inches in circumference and weighs 22 ounces.
“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us,” Lawson said Thursday. “They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that, either.”
Duke shot 20.5 percent from the field in the first half and 31.5 percent in the second half, while Florida State went 30 percent in the first half and 41.9 percent in the second half. Duke’s average shooting percentage this season is 42.86 percent, while Florida State averages 43.25 percent.
The game had conference implications as well. Duke remains a half-game ahead of Florida State tied with Notre Dame atop the ACC standings with a 9-2 record. Both are top-25 teams as well: Duke at No. 16 and Florida State at No. 23.
“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”
Lawson requested an appeal of the game, but the ACC denied her request and instead created a rule where players must confirm the correct ball size before tipoff.
The ACC released a statement Friday morning which refuted Lawson’s claim:
“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim. Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process,” deputy commissioner and chief of extern affairs Amy Yakola said in a statement. “The conference office considers this matter to be closed and will have no further comment.”
Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time a men’s ball was used in a collegiate women’s basketball game. The College of Charleston was docked two wins during the 2017 season for using “improperly sized” basketballs during conference home games. The athletic department claimed the team had unknowingly used men’s basketballs during all their home games after switching apparel brands from Nike to Under Armour.
Whether or not what transpired in Tallahassee was malicious or accidental, Lawson believes the end result was disrespectful to the athletes and the sport. And it comes at a time when the disparity between women’s and men’s collegiate sports have been well-documented: first with the 2021 women’s basketball tournament bubble and then with the strewn-together court inside a hotel ballroom at the 2022 Las Vegas Invitational.
So while playing with the wrong ball is small by comparison, the fact that it happened still frustrated Lawson.
“The lack of accountability is striking. When you make a mistake, you own it, and you own it right away. You don’t pass the buck. It’s what I teach my players every day,” Lawson said. “I’m not perfect, but I admit when I’m making a mistake, and the mistake was made here and it’s a big one.
“It’s very frustrating that [the game] … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said. “… This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen,” Lawson added “It’s embarrassing for our sport.”