Why Do College Basketball Teams Cut Down the Net?

There are some sports fans who wouldn’t question that, for them at least, the best part of the year is when March Madness begins. Many fans try their best to pick the perfect bracket while every team that makes it into the tournament dreams about becoming champions. One of the things winning teams do after winning the tournament is to cut down the nets. While it might seem like an odd thing to do, like most traditions this practice is rooted deep in basketball history.

Who was the first person to cut the nets?

It’s a scene all 64 teams who take part in March Madness want to recreate. Players and coaches from the championship teams line up to climb up a ladder and methodically cut pieces of the net off of the basket. If you think about it for even a second, it’s a really weird way to celebrate the best feeling you can achieve in college sports by taking scissors to the game’s equipment. Where did this idea come from? Its beginnings go back to a high school in Indiana. 

That is where Everett Case spent 23 years as a coach, winning four state titles during his time there. In 1946, he moved into the college ranks to coach North Carolina State, leading the team to a Southern Conference tournament win the next year. Amid the celebrations, Case climbed up his players’ shoulders to cut part of the net so that he could have a souvenir of the moment. It has been said that he brought the tradition from Indiana, but there is some dispute over the truth of that claim. 

How many people have hurt themselves doing this?

Fast forward a few decades and now every team cuts the nets in victory at the end of March Madness, in lesser college tournaments, and even in high school. It’s become such a big deal that the NCAA, always on the lookout for more money that they won’t give to the players, have official sponsors for the ladder (Werner) and the scissors (Fiskars).

But what are scissors if not two interlocked blades attached to a handle? Getting on top of a ladder with a sharp object is always dangerous, and there have been a handful of accidents during this ceremony. 

Billy Donlon, an assistant coach for Michigan, cut himself after the Wolverines won the Big Ten tournament in 2017. North Carolina’s Roy Williams also sustained a self-inflicted wound after an ACC tournament win in 2016. 

“I’ve got some vertigo issues and I was up there on the ladder, and I felt like it was sort of moving a little bit as I was trying to cut the net,” Williams recalled last week in Memphis of his experience last year. “And I missed the net and cut my finger, and then I tried to macho it real well and hide it from everybody. And it was bleeding like crazy down there, and they ended up putting four or five stitches in it in the locker room.”  

How does the NCAA keep people safe while they cut the nets?

Safety precautions have been taken to avoid any serious harm. During the cutting process, the NCAA allows only members of the team and its travel party inside the 3-point line so that the crowd around the basket is manageable. 

The ladder manufacturers also help to make the tradition safe. Werner works with the NCAA to make a ladder that is optimized for the long-legged physiques of college basketball players. The custom model features scissor-storage options, such as a magnet and a tool holder for the scissors. 

But these accidents happen far too rarely to stop anyone from engaging in the tradition during the afterglow of their achievement. That championship feeling is too intense to ignore. Everyone with stake in the game will dream of ending March Madness with a title to their name and scissors in their hands.