PETA Falsely Takes Credit for NCAA Basketball Change

This week the National Collegiate Athletic Association voted to use synthetic basketballs in its tournament games rather than leather basketballs. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Dan Shannon was quoted in an Associated Press story as taking credit for the change — a position reinforced by AP writers Dan Gelston’s focus on the animal rights group as the sole reason the NCAA made the change. In fact, Gelston appears to have fallen for PETA’s standard puffery.

In his article, Gelston wrote,

The leather basketballs used in NCAA tournaments have been permanently benched.

The organization said it would make the swtich next season to balls made of synthetic materials. The decision comes after animal-rights activists complained about the use of leather.

This implies that PETA had a lot of influence on the decision, but this is not accurate according to the NCAA.

AnimalRights.Net reader Craig Jakeway wrote to the NCAA to get to the bottom of this. The reply from Division I Men’s Basketball Championships Managing Director Gregory Shaheen tells a slightly different story than Gelston’s. According to Shaheen,

– The overwhelming majority of colleges and universities (NCAA membership) have used the composite basketball for several years. Of the 64 teams that participated in the first round of this year’s Division I Championship, 58 teams used a composite ball for all of their games this season. Each of the Final Four teams used a composite ball for all of their games this season.

– The composite ball provides greater “gribability” favored by players and coaches. The composite ball received “overwhelming” support by member-coaches of the National Association of Basketball Coaches at its annual convention.

. . .

  • The request from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) arrived as consideration of the change to the composite ball was already in progress. The comments from PETA were provided to the committees for their additional information, as was all other feedback from the aforementioned groups, for and against such a change. To indicate that PETA was a primary or sole influence in this decision is an overstatement. Rather, PETA provided reasoned input on the matter that was considered in conjunction with the variety of other substantial information on the subject. Specifically, regarding your comments on PETA, this process was specifically excluded from consideration of any political aspects of any entity involved. The decision was based on the merits of the factors indicated above. The NCAA did not issue a release on this matter.

The Associated Press ran a follow-up story written by sports writer Steve Wilstein that quoted Shannon suggesting that the whole idea to replace the few remaining leather balls used in the tournament with synthetic ones came directly from PETA. Shannon told Wilstein,

We proposed the idea to them. I don’t know that they would have come to the decision on their own. The information we provided and the argument we made in favor of synthetics swayed them.

But Wilstein then quotes Shaheen as saying that PETA’s request “was not even a factor” in the decision.

The real factor, as Wilstein notes, was almost certainly money. The NCAA switched from Rawlings to Wilson as its basketball supplier. Wilson has spent a lot of money marketing its $75 Ultimate basketball, which just happens to be made out of composite materials. PETA can claim that this was done to save animals, and the NCAA can claim it was done because the composites are superior to leather balls, but the bottom line is this deal was done because it makes more money for the NCAA and Wilson.

Just how dedicated are Shannon and PETA to the truth? Shannon told Gelston, “The production [of synthetic basketballs] is simpler and it doesn’t involve raising animals which is a very costly procedure.” Shannon told Wilstein that, “I would call it a victory for PETA, a victory for the NCAA and a victory for all the cows out there who are killed for their skins.”

But, of course, almost all leather sold in the United States is a byproduct of the meat industry. Nobody goes out and raises cows just to slaughter them to use to make basketballs. The NCAA’s switch to synthetic basketballs won’t prevent the slaughter of even a single cow.

But then, for PETA, it’s all about style over substance.


No more leather basketballs for NCAA. Dan Gelston, Associated Press, May 14, 2002.

NCAA to Replace Leather Balls. Steve Wilstein, Associated Press, May 16, 2002.

PETA what an error!. E-mail message, Craig Jakeway, May 16, 2002.

Leave a Reply