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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

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Best men's March Madness photos 2016
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Best men's March Madness photos 2016
HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Brice Johnson #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels defends a shot by Tyler Roberson #21 of the Syracuse Orange in the first half during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Chris Steppig - Pool/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Buddy Hield #24 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Brice Johnson #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Marcus Paige #5 celebrate defeating the Syracuse Orange 83-66 as Tyler Roberson #21 of the Syracuse Orange reacts after the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 27: Malachi Richardson #23 of the Syracuse Orange falls off of the court in the second half against the Virginia Cavaliers during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional Final at United Center on March 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26: The Villanova Wildcats celebrate defeating the Kansas Jayhawks 64-59 during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks falls as he drives between Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats and Kris Jenkins #2 in the second half during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25: Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after a basket in the first half against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 24: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils goes up for a shot against Jordan Bell #1 of the Oregon Ducks in the second half in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at the Honda Center on March 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 17: Ben Bentil #0 of the Providence Friars dunks the ball in the first half over Elijah Stewart #30 of the USC Trojans during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 17, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 17: Kennedy Meeks #3 of the North Carolina Tar Heels rebounds against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles during the first round of the NCAA Men's Basbetball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 17, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 17: Zach Johnson #5 of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles dives to shoot the ball in the first half against Isaiah Hicks #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 17, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MARCH 17: Roger Woods #0 of the Arkansas Little Rock Trojans and P.J. Thompson #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers fight for a ball during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Pepsi Center on March 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17: Taurean Prince #21 of the Baylor Bears dunks the ball in the first half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20: DeAndre Bembry #43 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks goes up with a reverse dunk against hte Oregon Ducks in the first half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Adam Woodbury #34 of the Iowa Hawkeyes goes up against Phil Booth #5 of the Villanova Wildcats in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18: Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins puts up a shot against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17: Derek Willis #35 and Skal Labissiere #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats reject a shot by Rayshaun McGrew #11 of the Stony Brook Seawolves in the first half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 18: Isaiah Taylor #1 of the Texas Longhorns reacts after Paul Jesperson #4 of the Northern Iowa Panthers hit a half court three pointer to win the game with a score of 75 to 72 during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 18, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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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

23 PHOTOS
March Madness - Schools with most Final 4 appearances
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March Madness - Schools with most Final 4 appearances

27. Kansas State 

Final Four appearances: 4
NCAA Tournament championships: 0
Most recent Final Four: 1964

The Wildcats' Final Four drought nearly came to the end in 2010. That year, Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight thanks in large part to the play of guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. The team was knocked out by Butler, who went on to the national title game.

 (Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images)

25. Utah

Final Four appearances: 4
NCAA Tournament championships: 1 (1944)
Most recent Final Four: 1998

The Utes won their lone championship in 1944 by beating Dartmouth 42-40 in overtime. More recently, Utah advanced to the national title game in 1998, led by future first-round draft picks Andre Miller and Michael Doleac.

(Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

20. Wisconsin 

Final Four appearances: 4
NCAA Tournament championships: 1 (1941)
Most recent Final Four: 2015

Outside of their national championship in 1941, the Badgers suffered through lean times during the 20th century. The program made just two tournament appearances from 1942 to 1995 before hiring Dick Bennett away from Green Bay. In six seasons, Bennett led Wisconsin to the tournament three times, highlighted by a Final Four appearance in 2000.

The Badgers wouldn't return to the Final Four until making back-to-back appearances in 2014 and 2015 under Bo Ryan. Each trip ended in heartbreak — Wisconsin lost in the semifinals to Kentucky in 2014, then in the championship game to Duke in 2015.

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

19. Houston 

Final Four appearances: 5
NCAA Tournament championships: 0
Most recent Final Four: 1984

The Houston basketball program peaked from 1982 to 1984, when Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler headlined the "Phi Slama Jama" teams. During that run, the Cougars amassed a combined record of 88-16 and made the Final Four each year. Houston made it to the championship game in 1983 and 1984 but lost each time to North Carolina State and Georgetown, respectively.

(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

18. Illinois 

Final Four appearances: 5
NCAA Tournament championships: 0
Most recent Final Four: 2005

Illinois has made just two Final Four appearances since 1952, most recently in 2005. During that run, the Fighting Illini erased a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes against Arizona in the Elite Eight in a stunning comeback led by Deron Williams and Luther Head. The team went on to lose, 75-70, in the title game against North Carolina.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

17. Georgetown

Final Four appearances: 5
NCAA Tournament championships: 1 (1984)
Most recent Final Four: 2007

In Patrick Ewing's four-year college career, the Hoyas made it to the Final Four three times, a run highlighted by a national championship in 1984. Georgetown ended its 23-year Final Four drought in 2007 with a team that had future first-round picks Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert.

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

16. Syracuse 

Final Four appearances: 5
NCAA Tournament championships: 1 (2003)
Most recent Final Four: 2013

Syracuse has made one Final Four appearance in each of the past five decades, four of which came under current head coach Jim Boeheim. The program's lone tournament championship came in 2003 when the team was carried by freshman forward Carmelo Anthony.

 (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

15. Florida

Final Four appearances: 5
NCAA Tournament championships: 2 (2006, 2007)
Most recent Final Four: 2014

In the 19 seasons the team was coached by Billy Donovan, Florida made the tournament 14 times, with seven Elite Eights, four Final Fours and back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Those teams were headlined by future first-round picks Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford and had a combined 68-11 record.

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

14. UConn

Final Four appearances: 5
NCAA Tournament championships: 4 (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014)
Most recent Final Four: 2014*

With four national titles in five Final Four trips, the Huskies have taken advantage of their opportunities. Guard play paved the way for UConn's two most recent championships, first with Kemba Walker in 2011 and then with Shabazz Napier in 2014.

*Note: Connecticut and Florida each last made the Final Four in 2014. UConn's second-most recent appearance (2011) was more recent than Florida's (2007), so the Huskies won the tiebreaker.

 (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

13. Cincinnati 

Final Four appearances: 6
NCAA Tournament championships: 2 (1961, 1962)
Most recent Final Four: 1992

The Bearcats made five consecutive Final Four appearances from 1959 to 1963, the first two of which came with future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson leading the charge. Though both of The Big O's trips to the Final Four ended in disappointment, Cincinnati won back-to-back titles in 1961 and 1962.

 (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

12. Arkansas 

Final Four appearances: 6
NCAA Tournament championships: 2 (1961, 1962)
Most recent Final Four: 1992

The Bearcats made five consecutive Final Four appearances from 1959 to 1963, the first two of which came with future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson leading the charge. Though both of The Big O's trips to the Final Four ended in disappointment, Cincinnati won back-to-back titles in 1961 and 1962.

 (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

11. Oklahoma State 

Final Four appearances: 6
NCAA Tournament championships: 2 (1961, 1962)
Most recent Final Four: 1992

The Bearcats made five consecutive Final Four appearances from 1959 to 1963, the first two of which came with future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson leading the charge. Though both of The Big O's trips to the Final Four ended in disappointment, Cincinnati won back-to-back titles in 1961 and 1962.

(Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images)

10. Michigan 

Final Four appearances: 7
NCAA Tournament championships: 1 (1989)
Most recent Final Four: 2013

Despite winning a national title in 1989, the Wolverines' back-to-back Final Four trips in 1992 and 1993 are arguably the most celebrated seasons in program history. Each of those runs was led by the "Fab Five" recruiting class, featuring Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard. More recently, Michigan advanced to the national championship game in 2013, where the team lost to Louisville.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

9. Indiana 

Final Four appearances: 8
NCAA Tournament championships: 5 (1940, 1953, 1976, 1981, 1987)
Most recent Final Four: 2002

Indiana enjoyed a run of excellence under fiery head coach Bob Knight. In 29 seasons under Knight, the Hoosiers won three national championships, including a perfect 32-0 record during the 1975-1976 season. The program's most recent trip came in 2002, when Indiana lost to Maryland in the title game.

 (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

8. Michigan State

Final Four appearances: 8
NCAA Tournament championships: 5 (1940, 1953, 1976, 1981, 1987)
Most recent Final Four: 2002

Indiana enjoyed a run of excellence under fiery head coach Bob Knight. In 29 seasons under Knight, the Hoosiers won three national championships, including a perfect 32-0 record during the 1975-1976 season. The program's most recent trip came in 2002, when Indiana lost to Maryland in the title game.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

7. Louisville 

Final Four appearances: 10
NCAA Tournament championships: 3 (1980, 1986, 2013)
Most recent Final Four: 2013

Louisville enjoyed great success in the 30 years under head coach Denny Crum from 1971 to 2001. The Cardinals won two national titles during that time, with six trips to the Final Four. The program has enjoyed a resurgence under Rick Pitino, who led the team to a national championship in 2013.

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

6. Ohio State 

Final Four appearances: 10

NCAA Tournament championships: 3 (1980, 1986, 2013)
Most recent Final Four: 2013

Louisville enjoyed great success in the 30 years under head coach Denny Crum from 1971 to 2001. The Cardinals won two national titles during that time, with six trips to the Final Four. The program has enjoyed a resurgence under Rick Pitino, who led the team to a national championship in 2013.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

5. Kansas

Final Four appearances: 14
NCAA Tournament championships: 3 (1952, 1988, 2008)
Most recent Final Four: 2012

The first head coach of Kansas men's basketball was the inventor of the sport itself — Dr. James Naismith. Though Naismith didn't lead the Jayhawks to much success, he laid the groundwork for one of the most dominant programs in college basketball history.

In 14 Final Four appearances, Kansas advanced to nine national title games with three wins, most recently in 2008. That team won the championship thanks in large part to a game-tying three-pointer from Mario Chalmers in the final seconds of the national championship game against Memphis.

 (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

4. Duke

Final Four appearances: 16
NCAA Tournament championships: 5 (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015)
Most recent Final Four: 2015

As the head coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski has established himself as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball. He is the only coach in the sport's history with over 1,000 wins, and his five national championships are the second-most behind only John Wooden.

Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to nine national title games, including three straight from 1990 to 1992. Under Coach K, Duke has never gone more than five seasons without reaching the Final Four.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

3. Kentucky 

Final Four appearances: 17
NCAA Tournament championships: 8 (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2012)
Most recent Final Four: 2015

Four of Kentucky's eight national championships came under Hall of Fame coach Adolph Rupp. Rupp guided the Wildcats to six Final Four appearances from 1939 to 1972, and four different head coaches have each won a national championship since his departure — Joe B. Hall (1978), Rick Pitino (1996), Tubby Smith(1998) and John Calipari (2012).

Since Calipari took the helm in 2009, Kentucky has made four Final Four appearances and produced dozens of future NBA players, including John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns.

 (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. UCLA

Final Four appearances: 18
NCAA Tournament championships: 11 (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1995)
Most recent Final Four: 2008

Under legendary head coach John Wooden, UCLA had one of the most dominant dynasties in college sports history. The Bruins won 10 national championships in 12 years and featured several all-time great players, including Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes.

Since Wooden's final season in 1975, UCLA has made six Final Four appearances, including three straight from 2006 to 2008 under Ben Howland. During that run, the Bruins featured future NBA players Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Darren Collison.

(Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

1. North Carolina

Final Four appearances: 18
NCAA Tournament championships: 5 (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009)
Most recent Final Four: 2009

Though UCLA has more than double the national titles North Carolina has, the Tar Heels stand toe-to-toe with the Bruins in Final Four appearances. The program made 11 of its 18 Final Fours under Hall of Famer Dean Smith, who coached the team from 1961 to 1997 with two national championships.

Current head coach Roy Williams took over in 2003 and has taken the Tar Heels to three Final Fours and two national titles, most recently in 2009. North Carolina has had many all-time greats in its storied history, including Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Antawn Jamison.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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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.

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