More March Madness news

March Madness, an informal term that refers to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship tournament, has been played since 1939. One of the most anticipated and watched sports events in the US, March Madness is a single elimination tournament that begins in March every year and comprises 68 teams competing in seven rounds for the national championship. A total of 37 different schools have managed to get their hands around the trophy to date with UCLA, the most with 11 championships.

The 68-team format was put into effect for the first time in 2011 and has been a regular feature since then. Participation was limited to 64 teams between 1985 and 2010. With the exception of the 2020 season, where the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the championship has been a premier source of entertainment for the American audience.

Evolution of Tournament Format

Early Era (1939–1970)

A tournament that has stood the test of time for over eight decades is bound to have a golden history. The tournament’s format has undergone considerable changes over the years. The inaugural tournament was held in 1939, with Oregon emerging as the champion. It was the brainchild of Ohio State coach Harold Olsen. Back then, the NABC managed the operations for the NCAA.

The term March Madness first came into existence close to 85 years ago, when Henry V. Porter, who was a teacher and a coach at the Athens High School in central Illinois and later served as an executive secretary of the Illinois High School Athletic Association, coined the word in an essay that appeared in the journal. The drama around the term brought the entire state together, and later he also came out with a poem that was made public in the Illinois Interscholastic in March 1942. 

Between 1939 and 1950, the tournament comprised only eight teams, which was later doubled to 16 in 1951, thus adding two additional districts and six sports for at-large teams. The conferences still had just one team, but more than one conference from the same geographic district could now be included. A couple of years later, in 1953, the tournament expanded to 22 teams, with 10 teams receiving a bye to the regional semis. The double region naming was active until 1956 but was renamed to East, Mideast, Midwest, and West until 1985. 

At the start of 1946, a third-place game was held before the championship game, a ritual that was followed until 1952. During this time, the National Invitation Tournament emerged, founded by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers at the Madison Square Garden in New York. The NIT received more coverage than the NCAA, but good teams stayed away from the latter because of the 8-district rule until 1950. While teams often competed in both tournaments, in the 1951 edition, the NCAA banned the teams and asked them to set their priorities clearly.

Pre-modern Era (1971–1984)

With the passage of time, the NCAA formed rules to ensure that their product became the most valued tournament for college basketball. In 1971, a couple of rules were changed, the first of which banned teams from declining an invitation to the NCAA to participate in other post-season tournaments. As a result, the NCAA comprised the conference champions and a majority of the top-ranked teams, thus solidifying its dominance. The second rule was to allow multiple teams per conference in 1975. This resulted in several high-ranked teams participating in the competition.

The tournament was then expanded to 32 teams in 1975. Another expansion took place four years later when the tournament was made open to 40 teams, adding another sixth round, as a total of 24 teams received a bye. Eight more teams were added in 1980. The concept of seeding was also introduced in the 1980s, thus ensuring drama and fairness in matchups as better teams went ahead and the competition didn’t suffer.

Modern Era (1985–present)

The final and most recent format update for March Madness came in 1985 when the NCAA decided to eliminate all byes and play-ins. The most important decision was to expand the participating team pool to 64. Thus throwing an open challenge to all the teams to win six straight games to win the tournament. The move was an instant hit as it created ripples in the media industry, providing the tournament with more eyeballs, coverage, and popularity in the American audience and culture.

The 1996 Final Four was the last one to be held inside a basketball venue, and since then it has been conducted in large indoor football stadiums. In 2001, the tournament was expanded to 65 teams, and the concept of play-in games was added to the mix. This was in response to the creation of the Mountain West Conference in 1999. The last two teams were seeded in a regional bracket of 16 seeds, and the game was played on Tuesdays in Dayton, Ohio.

While there were rumors of the tournament getting expanded to 128 teams, CBS's television contract with the NCAA revealed the expansion to 68 teams, starting in 2011, thus establishing the First Four concept. This was created by the addition of three play-in games, out of which the first two games pit 16 seeds as opponents, and the remaining two pits the last at-large bids against each other.

In 2016, the NCAA introduced a New March Madness logo, used as a tool for branding, thus incorporating branded courts at each of the tournament venues, leaving behind the tradition of using the generic NCAA court. Due to COVID-19 in 2020, the NCAA canceled the tournament for the first time in history, but not before discussing a short tournament comprising only 16 teams in the Final Four city of Atlanta. In 2021, the entire tournament was hosted in the state of Indiana, reducing travel and hence the risk of spreading the virus. However, in 2022, the tournament returned to its original format.

Championship Records & Impact on American Culture

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament has witnessed some glorified moments, and champions who have etched their names in the history books forever. The University of California, Los Angeles, has been the most successful college basketball team in the tournament history, with 11 titles under their belt. Interestingly, ten of those championships came in a span of 12 years starting from 1964. At the second spot is Kentucky with eight titles, followed by North Carolina with six. At the fourth spot, there are three teams - Connecticut, Duke, and Indiana with five titles each. Connecticut is the defending champion, having won the 2023 championship, defeating San Diego State in the final.

Teams with multiple NCAA championships

RankTeam NameWins/Years
01UCLA11/ 1964-73, 1975, 1995
02Kentucky08/ 1948-49, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2012
03North Carolina06/ 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2017
04Duke05/ 1991-92, 2001, 2010, 2015
05UConn05/ 1999, 2004, 2011, 2014, 2023
06Indiana05/ 1940, 1953,1976, 1981, 1987
07Kansas04/ 1952, 1988, 2008, 2022
08Villanova03/ 1985, 2016, 2018
09Louisville02/ 1980, 1986
10Cincinnati02/ 1961-62
11Florida02/ 2006-07
12Michigan State02/ 1979, 2000
13NC State02/ 1974, 1983
14Oklahoma State02/ 1945-46
15San Francisco02/ 1955-56

Other than lifting the NCAA title for a record 11 times, the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team has created a plethora of records on the way to etching college basketball's golden era.

  • 7 consecutive titles - 1964 to 1973
  • 13 NCAA title game appearances 
  • 10 consecutive Final Four appearances - 1967 to 1976
  • 25 Final Four wins
  • 38-game NCAA tournament winning streak - 1964 to 1974
  • 134 weeks ranked number one in the AP Top 25 Poll
  • 54 consecutive winning seasons - 1949 to 2002
  • 88-game men’s regular season winning streak - 1971 to 1974
  • Four undefeated seasons - 1964, 1967, 1972-73
  • 13 straight conference championships - Tied with Kansas

John Wooden Era - 1948 to 1975 

After failing to win even a single championship between 1919 and 1947, during which the team registered some good victories but could never become a force to be reckoned with, the management decided to hand over the coaching duties to the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden. Before his arrival, UCLA had only won a couple of conference championships in the previous 18 years. During his regime, which lasted for 27 years at UCLA, the team reached its pinnacle. He won a record 10 NCAA championships in a space of 12 years, which also includes a record 7-in-a-row. No other team in history has managed to win more than two championships back-to-back to date. Under his regime, the team won a men’s basketball record of 88 consecutive games. In his very first season, Wooden registered 22 wins compared to seven losses, the most wins in a season in program history, and the PCC Southern Division Championship. The second season saw one more PCC title and a couple more division titles in the next season to go with the conference title in 1949. In 1955–56, the Bruins won their maiden conference title and, along the way, went 17 games undefeated. Wooden coached in his final game on March 1, 1975, where UCLA trounced Stanford in a one-sided game. Four weeks later, after a semifinal win over Louisville, Wooden announced that he would retire immediately after the championship game. His team gave him a perfect sendoff as UCLA defeated Kentucky, giving him his unprecedented 10th national championship title in 12 years.

Top 3 NCAA coaches with multiple championships

01John Wooden101964-73, 1975
02Mike Krzyzewski051991-92, 2001, 2010, 2015
03Adolph Rupp041948-49, 1951, 1958
After Wooden retired, the four coaches who succeeded him resigned, and the remaining three, including Jim Harrick, who helped UCLA win the title in 1995, were fired. The average tenure of all those coaches was a mere four years.  While the UCLA dominance ended in the mid-1970s, their rivals have since managed to add titles to their name.


Given the extent to which college basketball is followed in the US, the March Madness games are broadcasted by CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV under the name ‘NCAA March Madness’. Multinational media and entertainment conglomerates like Paramount Global, Warner Bros., and Discovery pay $891 million annually for broadcast rights; a contract that was signed in 2011 and renewed in 2016 now runs until 2032. 

USA Today via Reuters

Broadcasters from CBS, TBS, and TNT are shared across all four networks that provide nationwide broadcasts of all NCAA games each year. The first four games get air time on TruTV, while the first and second rounds go on CBS. The remaining ones are taken by TBS, TBT, or TruTV. Next up is the Sweet 16, also known as the regional semifinals, where games are divided between CBS and TBS, and since 2015, both of these television networks have provided coverage of the Elite Eights. The two networks have also been providing the fans with alternate coverage of the Final Four and the national championship game, as the toss-up goes between the odd and even numbers for CBS and TBS, respectively.The CBS broadcast hands the NCAA over $500 million annually, making up to 90% of the annual revenue. The money is further divided among Division I basketball-playing schools and conferences. Over the years or decades, the competition has become an integral part of American culture through bracket contests. These contests award money and prizes to the winner for predicting the outcomes of the games. In 2023, it was estimated that between 60 and 100 million brackets are supplemented every year.

Cancellations and Adaptations

2020 was a tough year for the whole world due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA competition was no different, as for the first time in 81 years, the tournament had to be called off due to the deadly disease. For starters, the NCAA did discuss holding a shorter version with only 16 teams participating, and the Final Four to be hosted in Atlanta. However, the plans never materialized, and the NCAA had to put the shutters down and the championship was called off for the year.Cut to 2021, and March Madness was back, but with a measured approach and a plethora of changes, to ensure the safety and security of all the stakeholders involved. To begin with, the tournament was held entirely in Indiana to reduce travel, and hence the transmission of the virus. All the teams had to stay in the NCAA-provided accommodations until they were knocked out. The schedules were adjusted to provide extra time for COVID-19 testing before the start of the competition. Three teams ranked between 69 and 72 were put on standby to replace the team in case they withdrew from the tournament due to COVID-19. Oregon advanced to the second round as VCU could not participate due to COVID-19 protocols. In 2022, the tournament returned to its original format, and both the men’s and women’s tournaments were branded as the NCAA March Madness.

Selection Process

The selection process for the college’s NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments decides which team will enter the March Madness tournament. It also decides their seedings and matchups in the knockouts. Winning the conference championship acts as a direct qualification for 32 teams. The rest of the teams are chosen by the special committee. The selection process primarily takes place on Selection Sunday, where the brackets and seeds are released to the public.The selection committee is made up of 12 members, including athletic directors and conference commissioners. The committees consist of one member from each of the five autonomy conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and the SEC) and three members from the seven highest-ranked non-autonomy conferences. The remaining four members are selected from the other 20 conferences. The duration of the committee members is up to five years.While each conference receives only one bid, the selection committee is free to select any number of teams from each conference. Another eye test is also quoted by the game's knowledgeable pundits; however, the committee has never officially used the term.The committee also selects four additional teams, called the ‘First Four Out', as the top seeds in the National Invitation Tournament. The same policy was carried over to the 2024 Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament. In 2018, the RPI was replaced by the NCAA Evaluation Tool, a new metric that involved factors such as game results, the strength of the schedule, location, and scoring margin, among others. The selection committee is also responsible for providing the correct seedings for the selected team. Several factors are used to rank teams for the S-curve, including record, scheduling, and the NET and RPI in tournaments. The S-curve rankings keep each region balanced, ensuring the strongest team on the seed list—the national number one seed—is in the same region as the weakest number two seed. Also, the top four seeds in each region are comparable to the top four teams in the remaining regions.Once the S-curve is finalized, the committee now needs to place the teams throughout the four regions. Since 2007, the NCAA has finalized East, South, Midwest, and West designations for the men’s March Madness tournament. 

Venues and Game Logistics

The first and second-round games are played in different cities and are nowhere near the Regional Finals. A ‘pod’ system was introduced before the 2002 edition to reduce travel considerably, especially in the initial stages. Through this, any team is likely to be sent to any region and any pod, although the objective was for the top-seeded teams to stay closer to home.Better teams have a bright chance of playing close to home; however, that is not a written rule anywhere. Teams are spread out according to conference, and the first three teams within the top four selected from each conference must be placed in different regions. When the conference has three or more teams, the committee tries to seed the teams so that they do not cross paths until the Regional Final. They can also move a team up or down from its seed line in the S-curve, which can significantly affect the chances of a certain team. Selection Sunday is the day when the participants are selected, seeded, placed accordingly, and also announced.