Colorado State is going home sooner than expected after an upset opening round loss to Michigan, but Wilson Sporting Goods arguably suffered the worst loss of any team this week.
The popular sports manufacturer was poised to showcase its new game ball, the NCAA Evo NXT, on the biggest stage—with millions of potential customers tuning in. But the product has instead received widespread criticism from players, coaches and, of course, Twitter, where none other than Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban joined the chorus by posting that the balls looked like “$5.99 specials from Walmart.”
While the Evo NXT was introduced during the regular season, teams were not required to use it before the tournament, which is why it’s just now catching the attention players and fans. The points of contention range from its bright orange color to its “micro touch” covering. Wilson, a Chicago-based company that has provided the official NCAA balls since 2002, continues to defend its product on social media to muzzle some of the public backlash.
“I can guarantee you these aren’t $5.99 basketballs,” Wilson director of sales Dave White tweeted. “We took the best technologies from the previous NCAA game balls, the best technologies from the Evolution basketball and created the new ball that you see being used this year.”
Wilson, owned by Amer Sports Corp., seems to be happy about its latest game ball but clearly not everyone in the sport is thrilled about the evolution and innovation behind it. The criticism comes as the partnership between Wilson and the NCAA is set to expire in August 2023. It’s unclear how the mixed reviews from the new game ball will factor into negotiations for a new deal.
“Every ten-year-old basketball player in Indiana either has one already or wants,” Indiana senior associate athletic director of strategic communications Jeremy Gray tweeted. “Don’t get it, but that’s probably the point.”
The NBA replaced long-time sponsor Spalding for Wilson this season and select NBA coaches and players like Devin Booker have been vocal about their displeasure with the new ball. Like the NBA, college players and coaches will also be forced to adjust.
Wilson is gaining visibility, but the blowback from current and former college players, and the dismay and mocking of TV viewers may turn those precious eyeballs into unwanted glares.