The Making of March Madness

By Kimberly Gonzalez
SNPJ Associate Editor

How’s your March Madness bracket doing? I’m assuming that just about everyone reading this blog has a general idea as to what I’m referring, even if they don’t participate in the “madness.” As one of the most popular sporting events in America, the March Madness collegiate men’s basketball tournament washes over workplaces, local bars and most media sources during the last few weeks of the month. Although I’ve never regularly followed college basketball outside of my time as a student (Go Colonials!), I’ve participated in the fun of March Madness in the past. I didn’t complete a bracket this year since I’ll be on vacation during most of it (and keeping track of the tournament’s progress as it happens is half the fun!). If you jumped in and took a chance choosing this year’s winners, hopefully your picks still have you as excited as when you made them a few weeks ago.

As I mentioned, I’m no die-hard college basketball fan. And since I have no stakes in the games being played as we speak, I thought I’d take some time to do a little research on the tournament’s rather catchy name (instead of obsessing over score updates as I’m sure many of you might be). Turns out, March Madness is almost as old as SNPJ! Well, sort of. Although it wasn’t known as “March Madness” back then, a March 1908 Illinois high school boys’ basketball tournament takes credit as the first official March Madness. The eight-team tournament crowned Peoria High School as the champion after their 48-29 win over Rock Island High School. By the late 1930s, the tournament had doubled in size to 16 participating teams, with more than 900 schools statewide competing for a spot. As the tournament grew, so did the fan base, and the games were moved to Huff Gymnasium at the University of Illinois to accommodate the sold-out crowds.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the “March Madness” name made its way into college basketball, but even then it was often referred to as the “NCAA’s version of March Madness.” This kept the original reference with the Illinois high school tournament since the phrase wasn’t widely known outside of the state. But with a little help from a sports announcer with ties to Illinois, it wasn’t long before everyone was familiar with “March Madness.”

In 1982, CBS’s primary sports announcer was Brent Musburger, who began his career as a sportswriter and broadcaster in Chicago after attending Northwestern University. Having lived and worked in Illinois for some time, he was familiar with the “March Madness” high school basketball tournament and used the phrase regularly during his coverage of the 1982 NCAA tournament. Although Musburger helped popularize the phrase, the NCAA gives the “March Madness” credit to Bob Walsh and the City of Seattle. Walsh “reinvented” the phrase to help promote and market the 1984 tournament which was held in Seattle. Four years later, the NCAA obtained an official trademark license for “March Madness” in relation to the NCAA tournament.

So how many times have you checked your bracket while I’ve rambled on? At least now if you can’t impress your friends with your flawless picks, you can impress them with the making of “March Madness.”

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