22nd Feb2023

The Evolution of March Madness Throughout The Years

by James Smith

Drama, suspense, thrill, and glory! All emotions run high during the March Madness season. The NCAA college basketball league is a month-long ritual that fans eagerly await every year. However, the championship tournament had been through various transformations before reaching this magnitude of popularity. So how did this madness start? Let’s have an insight into how March Madness evolved to this date.

The Advent of March Madness

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament kickstarted in 1939 with merely eight teams. Oregon won the first championship league by defeating Ohio State. During the first matchup, your favorite sports event wasn’t “March Madness.” So, when did it get this famous title?

The Illinois high school official Henry V. Porter originated the title “March Madness” in the same year. However, he coined this term for the state’s high school game as the title of his essay in the IHSA’s magazine. It was his expression of fans’ enthusiasm during the high school basketball tournament. He even penned a poem called “Basketball Ides of March” to further elaborate on the spectacle.

Besides, several historians believe Brent Musburger popularized the league as March Madness while broadcasting the basketball tournament in 1982. Well, the frenzy is still the same. Undoubtedly, both of them deserve the credit for this renowned March Madness title. Today, NCAA and the Illinois High School Association hold this registered trademark.

Golden Era of College Basketball

The 1940-1950 period was the Golden Era for the March Madness tournaments. Moreover, it was the epoch of Illinois. The most prominent teams of the NCAA championship league rose to fame from this state, such as Taylorville Tornadoes. The basketball team won the 1944 State Championship.

Further, Mt. Vernon secured the championship title consecutively in 1949 and 1950. Another team worth mentioning is Hebron. It was a school of only 98 students, yet nothing could stop the squad from winning the 1952 college basketball league.

Teams Expansion

The field for the college basketball tournament doubled to 16 in the year 1951. Afterward, the number of participating teams increased multiple times. For the first time in 1979, the selection committee also brought the concept of seed rankings with the field expansion to 40.

In 1985, 64 teams started playing in the annual championship league. With the Mountain West Conference joining Division I in 2001, 65 teams competed for the title run, which also introduced the first play-in game. Lastly, NCAA added three more teams and rounds for the First Four during the 2011 tournament. So currently, the tournament has 68 basketball teams playing for the March Madness event.

Miraculous Win by Chalk

It’s unlikely to see and pick low-seed teams in the Final rounds of March Madness brackets. However, a miracle happened in 2018 that shook the sports and betting world alike. A No. 16 seed dismantled a No. 1 seed team. Yes, your read it right.

With a final score of 74-54 against the top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers, the UMBC team turned the tables in the NCAA championship field. Moreover, it was the lowest point score by the Cavs to this date. This March Madness title win by UMBC forced everyone to think – were they underdogs or true No. 1 seed?

Undoubtedly, it’s a story that will forever stay alive in the long history of March Madness championships. It’s one of the most talked about upsets in every NCAA betting guide and community of bettors. With this win, now seasoned players ensure to appreciate chalks while evaluating the bracket picks.

A Step Towards Gender Neutrality

2022 marked a significant achievement for NCAA women’s basketball players as well. Like the men’s season, the women’s tournament also held a competition between 68 teams. As the field expanded from 64, the league began with the “First Four” round.

For the first time, the Final Four teams of the women’s NCAA championship even received personal lounge and family lounge access at hotels. Further, women players got the same souvenirs and gifts as their male counterparts for participating in all rounds of the basketball matchups.

Dan Gavitt (NCAA senior vice president of basketball) said these are just initial initiatives. To bridge the gap between men’s and women’s basketball teams, the NCAA committee aims to add more opportunities for female players in the coming years.

Bottom Line

Indeed, evolution played a crucial role in the prevalence of the NCAA college basketball championship. Nowadays, March Madness is more than just a stage for college and university-level teams to gain exposure and recognition. It’s a mirror for sporting excellence, economic boost, and positive social change that brings growth at every level. The mega-event is indeed madness that will never fade.


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