How March Madness started: History of the NCAA basketball tournament


Every year people around the nation are polarized by the NCAA men's basketball tournament and the impending 'March Madness' that ensues.

This year's 68 qualifying teams will be announced on Selection Sunday -- March 12. The 2017 NCAA tournament tips off on Tuesday, March 14, and will culminate with the National Championship Game on Monday, April 3 at 9 p.m.

Best men's March Madness photos from 2016

Before this year's tournament gets started, find out how one of the greatest college sporting events got its start.

History of the NCAA Tournament

The first college basketball tournament was played in 1939. It only included eight teams and it didn't even determine the national champion -- the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) did. Over the years, the NCAA Tournament grew, adding more and more teams and eventually overtaking the NIT as the national champion decider.

SEE ALSO: ESPN's Jay Williams: Only these 5 teams can win March Madness

The number of teams steadily grew over time. In the 1950s, the number of teams grew from 8 to 16, then to 40 in the 1970s and to 64 by the mid-1980s. A 68-team tournament was ultimately settled upon in 2011. After the initial round, dubbed the "First Four," the tournament breaks into four regions of 16 teams.

The NCAA hosted its first women's national tournament in 1982, inviting 32 teams to compete in the inaugural tournament. The women's tournament ultimately expanded to 64 teams in 1994.

March Madness - Schools with most Final 4 appearances

Where did the phrase 'March Madness' come from?

The phrase 'March Madness' was coined by Henry V. Porter, assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), who was so enamored by the state's enthusiasm with high school basketball that he wrote an essay -- entitled "March Madness." The phrase stuck and for decades Illinois reporters used it when writing about the IHSA tournament.

The two words, now ubiquitous with the modern NCAA tournament, were first used in reference to college basketball by CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger used it during the network's 1982 NCAA tournament coverage.

The IHSA and the NCAA battled over copyrights to the phrase, ultimately determining the IHSA owned rights to the phrase when it comes to high school basketball, while the NCAA gained rights to the much larger collegiate-level.