A Brief History Of NCAAB March Madness

March Madness is an informal term that refers to the period during March and April when the NCAA basketball tournament is running. This determines the national champion in Division I of college basketball, commonly referred to as “The Big Dance.”

It is considered to be one of the most popular traditions throughout the US and is a beloved sporting event by fans all over the world!

As a result of this, millions of people tune in to watch the action each year and make predictions on the success of their favorite team. You can check out March Madness Odds to find out more about the next season.

If you want to learn more about the history of March Madness, let’s dive right in!


Origins of the Championship

Before we get into the finer details of what March Madness is, we’d like to give some context about the sport of college basketball.

Basketball was invented in the US and has been a huge hit since its inception in 1891. It was invented at the International Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) by a physical education instructor named James Naismith. 

It didn’t take long for basketball to grow into the popular sport we know and love today — one that is beloved by millions of fans all over the world.


The First Game

However, the first college basketball game didn't occur until February 1895. This took place between two colleges in Minnesota known then as Minnesota A&M (now the University of Minnesota) and Hamline University.


Expansion of the “March Madness”

After the popularity of the sport began to snowball, more governing bodies were created to take responsibility for college basketball. Then, in 1939, the first-ever NCAA Division I tournament was created by Harold Olsen, Ohio State’s head coach.

The championship featured only eight teams at this stage, with the Oregon Ducks beating Ohio State to reign victorious. Predicting the outcomes of different games and shortlisting potential champions wasn’t considered to be all that thrilling of an activity.

  • After WWII, the field doubled to 16 teams in the year 1951. As you might expect, the championship continued to increase in popularity thanks to access to cable television. It has been televised since 1969.

  • In 1985, the tournament expanded to the modern format of 64 teams which made it extremely unpredictable yet a little more thrilling. With so many teams in action, the March Madness craze finally reached its peak.

  • This rose to 65 teams in 2001 once the Mountain West Conference joined the NCAA Division I tournament, and 3 more teams joined in 2011 pushing the total number of teams to 68.


Where Did The Term “March Madness” Come From?

The registered trademark emerged the very same year that the championship game was played (1939). It’s believed that Henry V. Porter was the first to coin the phrase to refer to high school basketball in Illinois.

Porter wrote an essay about the tournament the same year it was founded called March Madness and, in 1942, also wrote the Basketball Ides of March – a world-famous poem.

In the “Golden Era” of the tournament (from the 1940s to the 1950s) the term “March Madness” became the most popular name for the event. Yet, until the 1980s, “March Madness” was not closely associated with the tournament. 

Well, until Brent Musburger, a renowned broadcaster, first made this connection! He managed to popularize the term for the whole of college basketball. It has stuck ever since. 


Significance of March Madness

Due to the March Madness craze, it has become one of the biggest and most highly anticipated sporting events in the US. It has also become a common betting option in mainstream popular culture where fans can accurately predict the outcome of every college basketball game. 


Major March Madness Success

UCLA is the most successful team in the history of March Madness. They dominated the 1960s and 1970s under the guidance of coach John Wooden who led his team to victory ten times. The Bruins have achieved eleven National Championships in total.


The Biggest March Madness Upset

The one that stands out is the 16-seed UMBC’s win over one-seed Virginia during the NCAA tournament in 2018. This was the first time in the history of the tournament that a 16 seed claimed victory over a 1-seed after they played a perfect 135-0 throughout the history of college basketball.

It’s hard to find any underdog that is bigger than that!

This upset was viewed as being virtually impossible. Yet, not only did UMBC pull it off with style against the overall top seed in the tournament, but with a final margin of 20 points, the game wasn’t even close! 



The NCAAB has a pretty rich and interesting history. It’s easy to see why college football is held in such high regard!

The term “March Madness” has been around since the start of the NCAA in 1939 and became synonymous with the league in the 1980s. Safe to say, March Madness will continue to be a cherished part of basketball and American sporting tradition as long as the league continues.