March Madness is here, and basketball fans all over the country are eagerly watching to see how their bracket predictions are playing out. Since 1939, the tournament has captivated fans' attention and has brought fame to title-holding colleges across the nation. But have you ever wondered how March Madness came to be? 

The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, as it is formally called, began in 1939 after Ohio State coach Harold Olsen suggested the idea. This tournament only included eight teams and didn’t even determine a national champion. The national champion was then determined by NIT, the National Invitation Tournament. By the 1970s, there were over 40 teams and eventually over time the number of teams rose to 68 in 2011 and has remained the same since.

A secretary of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) coined the term "March Madness" in the 1980s referring to the intense team spirit shown by Illinois high school basketball players and fans. The term was used by a sports broadcaster during one of the Division I tournaments and the name stuck. Though there were battles over the rights to the phrase, ISHA eventually settled on using it to describe high school basketball, while NCAA only uses it to refer to college basketball.

The games were first televised in 1969 and since 2011 have been broadcast internationally to countries such as Canada and the Philippines. Millions of people now fill out brackets in an attempt to correctly guess the outcome of each game.

“The betting on the brackets I feel has become a detraction from the sport,” said Tim McMullen, assistant coach of the RIT men’s basketball team. “The true love of competition and excitement of each game is the foundation of this event, and generates a ton of enthusiasm for the students, fans and America.”

McMullen described how the the tournament is a great opportunity for both student athletes and the universities that may later hire them.

“For the universities themselves — aside from the money — it is a great recruiting tool for the coaching staffs. It is felt that each round your team advances in the tournament, that exposure can land you a top recruit,” he explained. 

While the NCAA certainly makes a lot of money off of these games, there are of course benefits for students and the universities as well. Playing in a national tournament can do more than just put your school’s name at the top of a list. Various athletes who compete in the tournament go on to play for the NBA.

The team with the most national titles is UCLA with 11 wins. University of Kentucky is second with eight wins. The University of North Carolina is close behind with six wins. Duke University, Indiana University, University of Kansas, University of Connecticut and Villanova University also hold multiple titles.

In 1982 the first Women’s NCAA Division I Tournament was held. Though it occurs at the same time as the men’s tournament, it does not achieve the same recognition and does not have as strong of a following as the men’s tournament.

The women’s basketball team at RIT participated in March Madness through the Division III NCAA Tournament. Amy Reed, head women’s basketball coach, shared her excitement over the opportunity to compete in the tournament.

“It’s been an amazing journey for our team as we are playing for a National Championship thanks to an at large bid,” said Reed. The team would have received an automatic bid, however the determining factor was the conference championship game against Skidmore College which RIT lost.

“When it comes to March Madness, anything can happen,” Reed continued. “There are teams that are favored to win, but upsets are all part of the experience.”

Scores of 76-73 against University of New England and 79-76 against The College of New Jersey have put them in the Sweet Sixteen round.

However, on March 9, 2018 the Tigers ultimately fell to University of Rochester in an incredibly close 55-59 game. While they are no longer in the tournament, the team is proud to have made it to the Sweet Sixteen round. 

Whether local teams are competing for their first time, or multiple-title-holding champs years over, it is exciting nevertheless for both teams and fans to participate in March Madness. Tune in to the games over the next few weeks and see how your bracket matches up; you can never be sure how things will turn out!