Stuff You Should Know: March Madness

march madness

There are two stages of grieving that follow the passing of the NFL season. The first is a momentary bout of depression brought on by the realization that your Sundays will no longer be consumed by the sheer power and majesty of football. The second is an abundant surge of happiness upon remembering that no more football means that something just as great is right around the corner — March Madness.

Every March, sports fans nationwide celebrate the first days of spring by obsessing over their tournament brackets in smoky, windowless bars, just like God intended. You probably already know what team you’re hoping to ride to a swift and decisive victory in your March Madness office pool. But what else do you know about the greatest collegiate sporting event in all the land?

Here are ten things you should know about March Madness…

The Actual Name Is a Bit More Cumbersome


Officially, what we commonly know as “March Madness” is actually the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. But Kentucky shuffles point guards through their starting lineup and off to the NBA in less time than it takes to say that, so March Madness will do just fine.

The tournament was created by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 1939 and was the brainchild of awesomely named Kansas coach Phog Allen. But they held on to that ridiculously wordy name far longer than you would expect.

Brent Musburger Made Things a Lot Easier For Us All


The NCAA tournament and the term March Madness were both introduced to the world in 1939, but at the time, they were completely different things. Henry V. Porter, the assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, wrote an essay titled “March Madness” to describe the Illinois state high school basketball tournament, which featured over 900 teams at the time.

The name stuck, as far as Illinois high school basketball was concerned, but it took a Northwestern University alum (that’s in Illinois, y’all) to marry the term to the the NCAA tournament. In 1982, Brent Musburger, the aforementioned Northwestern alum and former Chicago area sportswriter, used the term March Madness during his broadcast coverage of the 1982 NCAA tournament. Just like that, a partnership was born.

Currently, the Illinois High School Association and the NCAA hold a joint trademark on the name.

But if you think it’s absurd that it took over 40 years before someone matched March Madness with the NCAA tournament, you haven’t heard anything yet…

The Final Four Wasn’t the Final Four Until 1975

final four

It seems insane, we know, but the Final Four wasn’t referred to as the Final Four until 1975. And even then, it was just in a Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper article in which a writer named Ed Chay noted that Marquette University was “one of the final four” in the 1974 tournament. The light bulb didn’t officially flicker over the NCAA’s head until 1978, when they first began using the term to describe the final four teams in the NCAA tournament.

Imagine what kind of brainstorming session it must have taken to come up with “Sweet Sixteen” and “Elite Eight.” In other news, we’d like to go on record as taking credit for coining the terms “Thunder Thirty-Two” and “So So Sixty-Eight” in case the NCAA ever decides those rounds need catchy names also.

Invites to the NCAA Tournament Used to Be a Lot Harder to Come By

memorable invitation

It’s not that the talent gap between the Dukes and, say, Oral Roberts of the world used to be any lesser, it’s just that, when the tournament was born, only eight teams were invited. The number of tournament teams has been rising steadily ever since.

  • 1939–1950: Eight teams
  • 1951–1952: 16 teams
  • 1953–1974: varied between 22 and 25 teams
  • 1975–1978: 32 teams
  • 1979: 40 teams
  • 1980–1982: 48 teams
  • 1983: 52 teams (four play-in games before the tournament)
  • 1984: 53 teams (five play-in games before the tournament)
  • 1985–2000: 64 teams
  • 2001–2010: 65 teams (with an opening round game to determine whether the 64th or 65th team plays in the first round)
  • 2011-future: 68 teams (four play-in games before the tournament, the nominal first round)

There has been talk of increasing the field to a whopping 128 teams at some point. That’s bad news for our liver and our crippling gambling addiction, but great news for TSJ’s After Work League (AWL) team finally scoring a much deserved invite.

But even if that never happens, we still have hope, because…

It’s Not the Only Post Season NCAA Basketball Tournament

NIT Tournament

It is the only one that anyone gives a shit about though. But a year before it was invented, in 1938, the National Invitation Tournament was founded. It held it’s own against and often drew bigger crowds than the NCAA tournament at first, mostly because the NCAA tournament was initially just for teams who won their conference. But once the field expanded to include other teams, the NCAA tournament eventually reigned supreme.

The reputation of the NIT has suffered as a result, with many describing it as a tournament to decide the 69th best team in the nation. Hell, some teams just flat out refuse to play when invited. It doesn’t help that the National Invitation Tournament’s initials open it up to so much mockery. How so? Glad you asked…

  • Not Invited Tournament
  • Nobody’s Interested Tournament
  • Never Important Tournament
  • National Insignificant Tournament

You get the idea. Let’s move on.

A Trip to the NCAA Tournament Means Cash


No cash for the players, of course. That would be “wrong.” But just about everyone else cashes in.

  • 1/6 of the money goes directly to the schools based on how many sports they participate in. How many NCAA sports they participate in, that is. So Beer Pong and Foosball don’t count, but Lacrosse does. We know, it’s not fair, but that’s the way it goes.
  • 1/3 of the money goes to the schools based on how many scholarships they give out.
  • 1/2 of the money goes to the conferences based on how well they performed in the six previous NCAA tournaments.

But the schools aren’t the only ones who see a cash windfall once March Madness rolls around. The FBI estimates that $2.5 billion is illegally wagered each year on March Madness.

But the winning school doesn’t just come home with cash in their pocket…

Own the Court and You Can Literally Own the Court


The winning team is given the option of purchasing the actual court once the tournament is over. If they decline, other teams are contacted about the possibility of purchasing it. If they take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity, the court is repainted and shipped to them.

That court won’t be coming from the Bi-Lo Center or Colonial Life Arena in South Carolina any time soon, though. The NCAA banned both venues from hosting tournament games following an NAACP protest in 2002 over the state’s refusal to take down the Confederate Battle Flag from the state capitol.

The winning court likely won’t be going to a 16 seed anytime soon either, because…

A 16 Seed Is the Kiss of Death


After those pointless play-in games are decided, the remaining field of 64 teams is broken into four regions of 16 teams each. If you’re lucky enough to sneak in as a 16 seed, history has so far proven that your luck will end there. The way seeding works, the 16 seed plays the highest seeded team. In the long history of the NCAA tournament, a 16 seed has yet to win it’s opening round game. Everyone swears it will happen someday, and it probably will, but it hasn’t yet. A few teams have come close though.

In 1989, two 16 seeds came within one point of winning their opening round, but eventually those lowly seeds, Princeton and East Tennessee State, both lost to Georgetown and Oklahoma, respectively.

The following year, 16 seed Murray State took Michigan State to overtime before losing by four points.

Things don’t improve much for the 15 seed. Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams, the 2 seed is 100-4 against the 15 seed. Of the bottom eight seeds, only the nine seed has a winning record against the higher eight seed, at 56-48.

While it is assumed that, someday, a 16 seed will play their way out of the first round, there’s another feat that we can all agree will never happen.

Nobody Will Ever Beat All Four Top Seeded Teams


It’s not due to a lack of effort though. It’s just that the way the tournament is set up, no team will ever play a team from each region in the tournament.

Go ahead, pull up your brackets from last year and try to make that scenario happen, we’ll wait.

Are you done? Great, let’s move on.

While we may never see an upstart team who takes down all four top teams, upsets do happen, that’s why “Bracketology,” the science of picking a winning tournament bracket, is such a statistical nightmare. How bad is it?

Can You Count to a Quintillion?


Because that’s how many bracket outcome possibilities exist. Not just one quintillion, though. With the expansion to 68 teams, there are now 147,573,952,589,676,412,928 possibilities. That’s 147.57 quintillion.

Even when the field is whittled down to a mere 64 teams after the play-in games, your odds of picking a perfect bracket are 9.2 quintillion to 1. You have a better chance of winning the lottery. Twice. Probably.

Basically, you can crunch all the numbers and play out all the scenarios in your head that you want, but your chances of all that work having any bearing on you beating your wife who picks solely based on the furriness of each team’s mascot are slim to none.