What is March Madness?

Julia takes us through a brief history of the tournament.

March Madness is the NCAA’s Division I college basketball tournament that has taken place for the past 80 years. Since the tournament’s inaugural year in 1939, many things have changed, but one thing has stayed the same: the excitement of all college basketball fans around the country in the days leading up to March 1 and the beginning of the tournament.

March Madness got its name from a high school tournament that took place in Illinois which started 30 years prior to the first collegiate march madness tournament. The high school tournament had such great popularity, that it coined the title “march madness.” By the time the college tournament started, there was no other choice but to name it after the Illinois high school basketball tournament. 

In the first March Madness tournament, only eight teams participated, while in 2020, there will be a total of 68 teams that will compete for the title. Since 1939, the tournament has rapidly grown, adding teams multiple times to increase the intensity and excitement surrounding the biggest month in college basketball. The first change in size came in 1951 when the field doubled in size to 16 teams. The lack of precedent sparked many changes throughout the 1950s; by 1956, 25 teams were involved. Again in 1975, the tournament expanded, this time to 32 teams. By 1985, the tournament was eight times as large as the first tournament with a total of 64 teams competing for the national championship. Today, the tournament no longer consists of 64 teams; by 2011 the small eight-team tournament turned into a 68 team tournament that lasts for four weeks. However, one thing has still remained the same: each team’s goal is to march and win the national championship.

Since the tournament’s inaugural year in 1939, many things have changed, but one thing has stayed the same: the excitement of all college basketball fans around the country in the days leading up to March 1 and the beginning of the tournament.”

March 15, 2020 marks the monthlong madness surrounding college basketball. This date is significant because it is Selection Sunday, the day where the tournament board finalizes the teams who will compete in the tournament and the first round match-ups. There are two ways for a team to be selected to play in the tournament. Teams are either considered automatic qualifiers by winning their conference championship tournaments (32 teams) or are at-large bids, which are selected by the selection committee. The selection committee’s goal is to select the best 36 teams who have not already received automatic bids. The committee bases its decision mainly on the NET ranking system that was created in 2019. This system ranks all Division I men’s basketball teams on a team’s record, the strength of schedule, offensive and defensive efficiency, and the types of wins and loses based on scoring margin, if the game was home or away, and who they won and lost to. After all the teams are selected, they are ranked in four separate groupings of 16 teams, with all of the one seeds being the four best teams in the tournament and all of 16 seeds being the last four teams to get bids. 

March Madness is a seven-round tournament that consists of a first four, a round of 64, a round of 32, a sweet 16, an elite eight, a final four, and then a national championship game. The tournament is single elimination meaning once a team loses, their season is over. The first four was created in 2011 with the addition of four more teams into the tournament. It consists of the four lowest seeds from the automatic qualifiers and the four lowest seeds from the at large bids, where automatic qualifiers will compete against other automatic qualifiers and the same for at large bids. Once these games are played, the winning team is reinserted into their designated regions and then will play in the first round. The first round matchups are designed to ensure the highest seed in each region plays the lowest, the second-highest plays the second-lowest, and the same continues for the rest of the region and the other three regions as well. 

However, one thing has still remained the same: each team’s goal is to march and win the national championship.”

This year, the tournament was set to begin on March 17, 2020, with the first four, and a national champion would have been crowned on April 6, 2020. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the tournament has been canceled to protect the players, staff, and fans. Although this may be a sad time for college basketball fans, March Madness 2021 will be here before we know it!

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