The History of College Basketball: Court and Equipment

Do you live and breathe basketball? Then you’ll love this article that’s all about the history of college basketball, from the origins of the game to the way it’s played today. We’ll discuss:

  • The origins of basketball
  • How the college basketball court came to be
  • How it’s made: college basketball equipment
  • Big moments in college basketball history

The origins of basketball 

Have you heard of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame? The famous hall of fame is named after the inventor of basketball, James Naismith. In December 1891, Naismith was working at the Springfield YMCA. In a brutal New England winter, he was tasked with keeping a rowdy class active while inside during the off-season. He had two weeks to create a game that could be played in the school’s gym, would keep the athletes in shape, would be fair for all players, and would be “not too rough.” He published the initial 13 rules of the game and the first game of “Basket Ball” was played, nine versus nine shooting at a goal of peach baskets. 


Fun fact: The first game of Basket Ball became a full-on mosh pit! Naismith himself said it “certainly was murder.” As a result, he changed the rules to ensure there wouldn’t be any more casualties. Modern basketball is still a little rough, but it’s not as aggressive as other sports.  


The sport took hold in the Northeast almost instantaneously, and it quickly spread throughout the country. In February 1895, the first known college basketball game took place between Hamline and the Minnesota State School of Agriculture. A year later, in January 1896, Iowa and Chicago played the first college basketball game with five players on either team (as opposed to the original nine vs. nine). 

 

In 1904, basketball became a “demonstration sport” at the Summer Olympics in St. Louis, earning the sport a more global reputation. The Olympic basketball demonstration was entirely college teams, and Hiram College claimed the gold. It wasn’t until 1939 that the NCAA held its first basketball championship tournament, where Oregon won the eight-team event. 

 

Since the initial gameplay, different rules have been removed or added to form the modern game we know today. In 1932, the midcourt line and 10-second rule were added to minimize stalling. There used to be a jump ball after every basket, but that was eliminated in 1937 (because it seriously slowed down gameplay). In 1944, they banned defensive goaltending, added a five-foul disqualification, and allowed unlimited substitutions. Changes have even been made in recent times: the shot-clock only went down to 30 seconds in 2015! Today’s game of basketball certainly doesn’t look the same as it did in 1891, but the original principles and passion for the sport remain the same. 

 

Another fun fact: Do you know the dunk was made a violation in 1967? Thankfully, it was made legal again in 1976, so we can enjoy dunks from some of the greats in the sport. 

 

Check out a timeline of college basketball history here.

 

How the college basketball court came to be

The first basketball court was, of course, at Springfield College in Massachusetts where Naismith invented the game. There was no defined size for a court at the time—it just had to fit inside the YMCA gym. 

 

The game grew in popularity quickly, so athletic department heads needed to create a more standardized court. In 1924, the rules suggested that a basketball court be a minimum of 60 feet by 30 feet and a maximum of 90 feet by 50 feet. Today’s pro and college courts are 94 feet by 50 feet. The basketball rim height was (and still is) 10 feet tall. 

 

In 1955, the free-throw lane widened from 6 feet to 12 feet to give players more room against taller players, like then-star George Mikan. The 3-point line was added in 1979, 22 feet between each corner and 23’ and 9' at the top point.

 

Today’s college basketball court dimensions are bigger and more defined, but the court has generally remained the same since the early 1900s.

 

Modern college basketball court dimensions

  • Court (NBA and college) = 94’ x 50’ 
  • Foul line: 15’ from foul line to front of backboard and 18’ and 10' from baseline
  • The Key (free throw lane aka the paint) = 16’ wide for NBA and FIBA; 12’ wide for college; extends 15’ from backboard to free throw line
  • Circles: three 6’ circles, one in center and one on each end around foul line
  • Arc (3-point line): 20.75’ in NCAA; 21.65’ to 22.15’ in WNBA and FIBA; 22’ to 23.75’ in NBA

Want more cool college basketball history? Check out the origins and victories of the Harvard basketball program here.

 

How it’s made: college basketball equipment

Wilson makes the official basketball for NCAA basketball Championships and March Madness. Wilson is now also the official ball for the NBA after the NBA dropped Spalding in May 2020.  


The primary parts of a basketball are the exterior leather and the internal “bladder.” Wilson balls are made of composite leather that absorbs moisture so it won’t slip out of sweaty fingers during play. They have an air-filled butyl bladder that’s durable and gives the ball that well-known bounce. 

 

Check out this video about how Wilson basketballs are made by Howit’sMade.

 

There isn’t a lot of other college basketball equipment that’s used to play basketball, especially compared to other sports. In basketball there is essentially the courts, hoops, shot clocks, uniforms, whistles, and shoes. There’s some “fancy” basketball equipment out there, like ball carriers and high-performance shoes, but the lack of required gear makes it one of the most accessible games for anyone to start playing (just pick up a basketball and go!). 

 

Do you have your school’s gear to cheer on your favorite basketball games? Find your school here to browse tees, sweatshirts, and other awesome accessories that you can wear to basketball games, the gym, class, and beyond. 

 

Pop quiz: How many quarters in college basketball? That’s right, there’s four! 

 

Big moments in college basketball history 

Basketball is one of the most thrilling and exciting sports out there. There are so many unforgettable moments that have changed the sport and America’s lifestyle around athletics overall.

 

Who can forget Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the March 26, 1979 NCAA championship game? This most-watched NCAA championship game in history brought in more than 35 million viewers to watch Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans defeat Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores. With so many views, it set up men’s basketball as one of the top sports to watch, paving the way for broadcasting deals and big-money checks moving forward. 

 

And of course, the world was watching Michael Jordan come into his own on the court. (And the drama when his number was retired before he was.) We highly recommend The Last Dance on Netflix, which is a docu-series about the rise of Michael Jordan throughout his career. 

 

Check out the best March Madness moments of all time and also college basketball’s most memorable moments in the past decade.

 

The future of college basketball 

Every year, there are more jaw-dropping games to watch and incredible players who make the NBA draft even more exhilarating. From outstanding NCAA basketball scores to some of the biggest losses of all time, basketball keeps us on our toes. And that’s one of the reasons we love it! 

 

Where will basketball continue to take us? We can’t wait to follow along with the action! 

 

Are you a college-bound student-athlete who plays basketball? Or maybe you’re a fan of the game and you love throwing on your school gear and cheering on your team from the bleachers? If so, YOU are the future of the sport… So, thank you for your commitment to basketball, to your school, and to the dedicated fandom that keeps basketball thriving.