How ‘March Madness' got its name


It’s the most wonderful time of the year for college hoops fans.

March Madness is here with the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments playing out over the next three weeks, but it hasn’t always been like that – at least by name.

While the men’s tournament originated in 1939, it didn’t fully become “March Madness” until much later. Here’s a look back at the name’s origin and how it turned into a sports staple.

When did “March Madness” originate?

“March Madness” was originally a high school basketball tournament in Illinois. The University of Illinois’ Huff Gymnasium would draw sellout crowds to the event, which started in 1908 and grew over the ensuing decades.

Henry V. Porter, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) assistant executive secretary, wrote an essay titled “March Madness” in the Illinois Interscholastic in 1939 to commemorate the tournament. Other outlets embraced the term as the tournament continued to thrive in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1973, the IHSA officially started using “March Madness” in its programs and on merchandise.

When was “March Madness” first used for the NCAA Tournament?

Brent Musburger, a former Chicago sportswriter, brought “March Madness” to the NCAA Tournament when covering the event for CBS in 1982. The term soon became synonymous with the national tournament, but there was a long way to go before the NCAA took ownership of it.

When did the NCAA get ownership over the “March Madness” name?

Charles Besser, who produced the “March Madness” show with his company, Intersport, trademarked the term in 1989. Intersport and the IHSA held a brief partnership over the term before Intersport assigned the rights to the IHSA in 1995.

From there, the NCAA and IHSA started pooling “March Madness” rights in 2000. It wasn’t until 2010 that the NCAA paid the IHSA $17.2 million for Intersport’s license for the phrase. “March Madness” is one of the NCAA’s many trademarks.

The NCAA increased its branding of the term in 2016 when it replaced the NCAA logo at center court of men’s tournament games with a new “March Madness” one for first round, second round, Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games.

When did the NCAA begin using “March Madness” for the women’s basketball tournament?

After restricting the use of “March Madness” to the men’s basketball tournament for decades, the NCAA started using the term for the women’s tournament in 2022.

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