The first half of Duke women's basketball's Sunday loss at Florida State was played with a men's ball, according to a closing statement made by head coach Kara Lawson in her postgame press conference Thursday evening following the Blue Devils' home win against Pittsburgh.
The Blue Devils and the Seminoles both entered Sunday's game in the top 25 nationally (No. 16 and No. 24, respectively), with Duke tied for the ACC's top spot with Notre Dame and Florida State one place behind. In short, the game had steep implications for both the conference and NCAA tournament seedings, which Lawson mentioned.
"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. It's a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I'm talking about [are] that failed the sport and our players and both teams," Lawson said, speaking passionately.
Lawson said that, throughout the first half, Duke players were "complaining about the ball." Then, at halftime, players voiced their concerns to the assistant coaches in the locker room. Lawson specified that she was not a part of that talk as she is not usually in the locker room at halftime. Assistant coach Winston Gandy then went to the scorers table to inspect the ball where he realized that the ball was, in fact, a men's ball, according to Lawson.
The team then alerted the scorers table of the incorrect ball. At first, the table refused to change the ball, but when the head was called over, "he came and looked at it, and he changed the ball," according to Lawson.
"I wanted to appeal and protest the game. The conference would not allow me to do that," Lawson said.
"We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men's ball," Lawson later added." The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn't."
Amy Yakola, ACC deputy commissioner and chief of external affairs, provided The Chronicle with a statement from the ACC Friday morning:
"Upon completion of the game, the conference office was made aware of the allegation and immediately conducted a comprehensive review," the statement read. "This included discussion with all parties involved, including game officials, game administrators, table crew and both schools. 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. The conference continues to prioritize and support our nearly 10,000 student-athletes in a world-class manner and conduct its 27 sponsored sports with the utmost integrity. The conference office considers this matter to be closed and will have no further comment."
The Chronicle also reached out Thursday night to a Florida State team spokesperson, who directed all media to the ACC's statement Friday morning.
Lawson added that since Sunday's game, the ACC has instituted a rule change where players have to confirm the correct ball during the captain's meeting prior to tip.
A men's ball is 29.5 inches in circumference and approximately 22 ounces, while a women's ball is 28.5 inches in diameter and approximately 20 ounces.
Despite her desire for an appeal, Lawson acknowledged and respected the outcome of the game as played.
"Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. 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," Lawson said.
"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. It just wouldn't happen," she added.
The charge adds to a conversation that has gained steam in the past few years around inequities in resources for women's basketball versus men's. In 2021, the severe lack of equipment afforded to women in their NCAA tournament bubble was exposed, ultimately leading to positive change, including extending March Madness branding to the women's tournament. In November 2022, all eyes turned to women's college basketball once again when nine Division I teams arrived at the high-profile Las Vegas Invitational to find they were set to play on a court haphazardly added to a hotel ballroom.
"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."
Editor's note: This story was updated the morning of Feb. 3 to include the statement from the ACC.
Jonathan Levitan contributed reporting.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.