The History of March Madness

A deep dive into past NCAA basketball tournaments and how they have became so popular.

Whenever the first NCAA tournament started in 1939, nobody knew just how big this event would become for the sports world. Over 81 years, the tournament has expanded, causing the huge growth outside of the sports world. From the Cinderella stories, to so many sports fans filling out brackets around the world, March Madness has become a worldwide phenomenon. 

In that first tournament, the Oregon Ducks defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes, 46-33. At the time, the tournament only featured a total of eight teams. Over the course of the next 50 years, the tournament slowly expanded, over time, beginning with the expansion in 1951 putting 16 teams in the tournament, then moving to 64 teams in 1985, and more recently in 2011, 68 teams. The tournament starts out with a round called the “Last Four In,” where four teams compete for the final two spots in the tournament. One of the teams will take a 16 seed, and the other will take a 13 seed. Then, kicks off the Round of 64, arguably the most fun part of the tournament, and the sports year. It not only starts the madness, but is the start of some of the greatest Cinderella teams in history. 

A Cinderella story is considered to be a team that goes way further in the tournament than originally projected. Here are some of the five greatest Cinderella stories in NCAA history. In 1985, Villanova came into the tournament as an eight seed, with a modest 19-10 record. They killed it, making their way to the championship game to take on a powerful Georgetown team led by Patrick Ewing. They went on to win the championship game, making them the lowest seed to ever win a championship game to this day. The LSU Tigers became the first, and only team to beat a 1, 2, and 3 seed all in the same tournament, and doing it impressively as an 11 seed. Florida Gulf Coast became the first ever 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, by taking down Georgetown, and San Diego State. However, the Eagles fell short to Florida in the Sweet 16. Loyola Chicago pulled off an amazing run just two years ago in 2018, when they went to the Final Four as an 11 seed. Sister Jean became a worldwide sensation, as she became the good luck charm of the world. Unfortunately, the Ramblers were defeated by Michigan in the Final Four, ending their historic run. Our final team, the UMBC Golden Retrievers, became the first, and only team to defeat a 1 seed as a 16 seed. In 2018, UMBC defeated Virginia in the Round of 64 as a 16 seed, pulling off the greatest upset in March Madness history. It’s these great Cinderella stories that make filling out a bracket so hard. 

March Madness is something that is not only huge in the basketball world, as it has transcended sports over the years. Filling out March Madness brackets started back in 1977 in a bar in Staten Island, where 88 people filled out a bracket. In 2006, at the same exact bar, 150,000 people entered, with a prize exceeding $1.5 million. There were studies done six years ago in 2014 that went along with filling out a bracket: Over 60 million people filled out brackets, $1 billion dollars were spent on off book gambling (gambling was illegal at the time). The odds of filling out a perfect bracket were 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Fun fact, you were more likely to die in a vending machine accident than fill out a perfect bracket. Fans from all over the world fill out brackets, and have fun with it, by picking the team to win with the better mascot, or the best colors, or even flipping a coin to win. Anybody can fill out a bracket, and you don’t even have to have any knowledge of the sport. This past year, gambling has been a huge deal, as gambling on sports has officially become legal. You could almost guarantee March to become a month where gambling companies prosper because of fans filling out brackets. 

March Madness is the time of year where anything can happen in the basketball world, and it’s something so fun to watch. It reminds me of sitting in Florida over Spring Break, and watching basketball and keeping up with my bracket. It’s something that everyone loves to do, and a great way to connect with other sports fans around the world.