February 03, 2017

Women's basketball now has its own version of ''Deflategate.'' Or in this case, call it ''Inflategate.''

The College of Charleston women's team unknowingly has been playing home games and practicing with men's basketballs all season long. They suspected something was up, and recently it caught up with them.

In a bizarre incident, the Colonial Athletic Association reversed the outcomes of a pair of conference games involving the Cougars for the school's use of the improper balls. The circumference of a women's ball is about an inch smaller than a men's one and typically weighs two ounces less. While it may not seem like a lot, that's a big difference.

Visiting schools noticed the difference in the balls throughout the season, but were told by Charleston officials that those were the correct basketballs.

UNC Wilmington coach Adell Harris thought something was off when her team practiced at Charleston the day before their game on Jan. 8.

''We spent 15 minutes talking about how they were men's balls at the start of our practice,'' she said. ''We were holding them up to the light looking for the (size of the ball) and couldn't find it. They had Under Armour balls and we hadn't seen a lot of them. Maybe they don't have 28.5 on the women's ball. I hadn't seen one before that.''

Harris said the next day when they had their game they didn't focus on the balls, which were the same ones the team used in practice. The Seahawks shot a season-worst 21 percent from the field, including going 1-of-18 from 3-point range. William & Mary, the other team that saw its result reversed, wasn't much better, making 3 of 17 3-pointers, in a 10-point loss.

The results of those two games - which were wins for Charleston - were overturned Thursday by the conference.

Charleston visited Wilmington this past Sunday and Harris said that Charleston coach Candice Jackson apologized to her before their game.

''She went on to tell me that they had those balls since July,'' Harris said. ''They mentioned them to (the distributor) that they didn't feel right. If that was me and that's the case, I'd go out to Dick's Sporting Goods and buy new balls.''

Virginia Tech played at Charleston in November. Playing at the school was nothing new for coach Kenny Brooks, who spent years as the coach of James Madison, another CAA school. As soon as any of his teams get to a gym the first thing he does is grab a ball and start shooting. When he got to Charleston he took a ball off the rack and told his director of basketball operations it was a men's ball.

''It was the wrong basketball. We compared it, their men use Nike balls and the women's team uses Under Armour balls. We compared it to the men's ball and it was identical. I don't think there was any mal-intent. I think there was ignorance. I don't know how you don't feel the difference,'' Brooks said. ''When this all came out I had an a-ha moment. It's one of the most bizarre things I ever heard of.''

CAA Commissioner Joe D'Antonio didn't want to speculate why the College of Charleston didn't get new balls shipped to the school when the mistake was first noticed.

''I don't know the answer,'' he said, adding that, ''You have that question in your mind.''

The school switched apparel companies over the summer and had to get new basketballs before the season started. The College of Charleston declined to comment beyond a statement issued by athletics director Matt Roberts saying the school regretted the ''unintentional situation occurred'' and ''accept full responsibility for what happened.''

While Charleston and William & Mary didn't report the incident to the conference office, Elon finally did while preparing for its game on Jan. 13. The school noticed the basketballs seemed a bit too large in practice, so the team took a photo of the ball and checked the model number online. The Phoenix found the balls in question were men's basketballs. They quickly called the CAA and the correct balls were used for the game that night, which Elon won.

D'Antonio doesn't believe the Cougars were intentionally cheating.

''People can do things underhanded,'' he said. ''No part of my investigation at any time led me to believe there was any type of malice or any intent here to be playing with the wrong balls.''

The commissioner was hamstrung a bit as far as what he could do because the situation didn't meet the NCAA criteria necessary for a forfeit or no contest.

''It was a very, very unique situation,'' he said. ''You can't unilaterally make them forfeit the games as related to national standings. The NCAA indicated to us they didn't feel as though it was an option in this situation, therefore the decision I made locally, was that they would forfeit the games in purposes of the conference standings,''

Harris was happy the league did something, but wishes it could have been more.

''If UConn went down there, they'd figure out a way to get that corrected. That's my thought on it,'' she said. ''If it mattered more in the big landscape, NCAA seedings, NIT bids.''

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