Brent Musburger Is Responsible for Coining the Most Famous Phrase in College Basketball

It’s March, and after a year in which the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament wasn’t held, March Madness is back. While the event will be scaled back this year and held in one state only, fans are happy that it’s going to be happening at all.

But for fans of the event, have you ever considered where it got its “March Madness” moniker? Let’s take a closer look at the event itself, what makes it so great, and where it got its name. 

How does March Madness work?

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The NCAA taps a selection committee to pick teams for their men’s college basketball championship tournament. Sixty-eight teams qualify for the field.

Teams can qualify by either winning their conference tournament or receiving an at-large bid. The committee is tasked with selecting the at-large bids and then seeding every team based on their perceived quality.

The committee uses factors such as the strength of schedule, win-loss record, and quality non-conference wins to determine who makes the tournament. Four top seeds are chosen, with the highest of the four getting to play in the region closest to their campus. 

60 teams are automatically entered into the tournament. Eight teams are forced to participate in a one-game play-in (dubbed “The First Four”) to award the last four spots in the 64 team tournament bracket. 

On “Selection Sunday” the committee unveils its picks to a national audience via TV broadcast. Teams all across the nation gather to watch. While some teams know they’re going to make it based on their conference championship or win-loss record, others are not so sure. That creates a “bubble” in which borderline teams sweat it out while waiting to see if they qualified. 

What makes March Madness so great?

For college basketball fans, there’s no greater time of year than March. Over the course of less than a month, fans get to watch 67 action-packed games. Many fans try their luck at filling out their own bracket, trying to predict who will win. 

While March Madness is heaven for hoops lovers, it’s hard on bosses. To put the event’s popularity in perspective, look at the stats on what it does for workplace effectiveness.

According to Fox Business, a study found that March Madness costs employers roughly $13.3 billion in lost productivity. One of the vice presidents at the company that conducted the study, Andrew Challenger, said it actually brings work colleagues together: 

“The tournament is a perfect opportunity for colleagues to bond in the workplace. Any attempt to keep workers from the games would most likely result in real damage to employee morale, loyalty, and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity.” 

Who coined the phrase March Madness? 

While the event was once officially referred to as the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament, the NCAA has leaned into the March Madness label over the years.

But where did it come from? According to an article by Slate, the history of it is quite interesting. The term first arose to describe Illinois’ high school basketball tournament, which began in 1908. An Illinois High School association official penned the following in tribute to the event:

“A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” 

The term wouldn’t be used for college basketball until 1982 when then-CBS basketball commentator Brent Musburger referred to the event as “March Madness.”

After a legal battle between the NCAA and the IHSA over the term, the two came to an agreement. For high school basketball, the IHSA controls the term. At the collegiate level, the NCAA has the license to use the phrase.