To the Victors Go the Nets

On Monday night, April, 4, 2022, an annual tradition resumes in New Orleans.  After the final buzzer, with confetti raining onto the Caesars Superdome hardwood and a new college basketball champion crowned, players and coaches will gather around a basket at one end of the floor.  A Werner ladder will be placed under the hoop and, one by one, members of the program will climb the steps to claim a nylon souvenir.

Cutting down the nets is a tradition engrained in college basketball, and one far more established than the treasured “One Shining Moment” montage that has closed every NCAA Tournament broadcast since 1987. 

In fact, clipping the nets to celebrate a college basketball championship traces its roots back 75 years.  

When North Carolina State captured the Southern Conference Tournament in 1947, Wolfpack players hoisted head coach Everett Case to the rim, where the first-year coach took down the net as a memento to victory. 

And the “Grey Fox” didn’t stop there. When the Wolfpack won the next five Southern Conference titles, they took the nets with them. The same goes when NC State moved to the newly formed Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953 and claimed four league titles from 1954-1959. 

After a cancer-stricken, wheelchair-bound Case watched underdog NC State top Duke for the 1965 ACC Tournament crown, players ushered him to the hoop. Once there, they elevated Case and had him slice the final piece of net. It was a touching tribute to a man who entered the real Hardwood Heaven the following year.  

As the story goes, Case brought the net-cutting tradition with him from Indiana, where he won four state titles as the head coach of Frankfort High. When Case’s Hot Dogs – yes, the Frankfort Hot Dogs – captured the 1939 championship, the IndyStar captured a photo of team manager Leon Brower cutting down then net at the Butler University Fieldhouse. The story’s headline read: “To the Victors Go the Trophies – Down Come the Nets.” 

While it’s not known if Case himself established the championship-celebrating tradition, he is undoubtedly the one who popularized it and brought it to the college game. It’s worth noting, Case is also credited with incorporating other now-common elements into college basketball, including pep bands and spotlighting players during starting line-up introductions. 

Today, cutting down the nets stands as a routine part of the basketball ecosystem, a tradition embraced throughout the high school ranks, in the women’s game, and in other net-involved sports. At times, the activity has been a source of motivation; at others, philanthropy, marketing, even injury. 

In a ploy to help his team visualize winning, NC State coach Jim Valvano famously instructed his 1983 Wolfpack squad to practice cutting down the nets. And whattya know? The Cardiac Pack ended up snipping the nets in Albuquerque at season’s end, chopping down Ralph Sampson’s Virginia and Houston’s Phi Slama Jama en route to the national title.  

After UConn’s women’s team won its tenth national title in 2015, head coach Geno Auriemma signed both ladders used to cut down the nets in Tampa for a charity auction. 

In 2016, North Carolina coach Roy Williams sliced his pinky finger while attempting to trim the net in Philadelphia to celebrate his team’s Final Four appearance.  

And Nike turned the net-cutting tradition into game-day apparel for the 2017 NCAA Tournament, outfitting Swoosh-sponsored squads with shirts carrying three words: “CUT THE NETS.” 

The net turned upside down has also been used symbolically as a crown. In a new merchandise promotion developed by CLC, the nation’s leading collegiate licensing agency, their “Chase the Crown” campaign uses the net as the ultimate prize. The campaign across 100+ universities also features a basketball themed mascot named Buster T. Brackets that wears the net upside down as his crown. You can see Buster in the coming weeks featured in our Hardwood Heaven. 

Since 2008, Werner Ladders has been the official ladder partner of NCAA net-cutting celebrations. Werner has even produced special-edition Podium Ladders, which the suburban Chicago company says are specifically “designed with wider rungs, a larger platform, and higher guardrail to accommodate taller athletes.”  

Fiskars, meanwhile, has supplied championship squads with a special edition of its iconic, orange-handed scissors to facilitate net cutting over the last decade. The scissors feature serrated, gold titanium blades specially etched with the NCAA logo. The same scissors appear in other NCAA championship events where clipping the nets has become a celebratory tradition, including ice hockey, volleyball, and lacrosse. 

To the victors go the nylon spoils, after all. 

And we have Everett Case to thank for that.