Where Did the Name “March Madness” Come From?

The real story behind the NCAA basketball tournament's bankable nickname.

Where Did the Name “March Madness” Come From?

The real story behind the NCAA basketball tournament's bankable nickname.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. For nearly a month your TV is all painted faces and mascots, your workplace banter is all about “buzzer beaters,” and you’re all but guaranteed to be $10 poorer after filling out a bracket. Yes, it’s “March Madness.” And this year’s NCAA tournament—especially after a surprising South Carolina vs. Duke contest—is certainly living up to its name.

But where did that name actually come from?

Well, much like your favorite tournament Cinderella, the term “March Madness” has pretty humble origins, going back as far as World War II. As it turns out, the phrase was originally applied to a high school basketball tournament run by the Illinois High School Association.

In 1939, the IHSA had been running a state basketball tournament for nearly 40 years when Henry V. Porter, an employee at the IHSA, wrote a love letter to the tournament in the organization’s official publication, the Illinois Interscholastic. He titled it, “March Madness.”

The name eventually took off among sports writers and was first used in reference to the NCAA’s tournament in 1982, when the love-him-or-loathe-him broadcaster Brent Musberger was working for CBS. “And so I just applied ‘March Madness’ to it,” Musberger recalled in an interview for The Rich Eisen Show last year.

“March Madness” actually became the subject of a lawsuit between the NCAA and the IHSA in the 1990s, but the two eventually settled.

So there you have it. Now you can impress your friends at the sports bar this weekend with your trivia knowledge instead of weeping over the tattered remains of your bracket.

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