But what is the history of the event itself, and how many teams qualify to play? Let’s take a look back at the NCAA March Madness tournament’s evolution, how teams are selected, and how many teams make the cut.
The history of the NCAA Tournament
According to NCAA.com, the tournament was first held in 1939 with only eight teams making the tournament. The field didn’t expand until 1951 when 16 teams made the tournament. 1975 saw the number of teams double yet again to 32, with the more modern 64 team field coming about in 1985.
Today, March Madness has become an event unlike any other in professional sports. College football has a playoff as well, but it only selects four teams to participate.
While other pro sports leagues have multiple-round playoff tournaments to decide a champion, none can boast the sheer volume of teams March Madness has.
Upsets and buzzer-beaters routinely occur, with new, exciting match-ups happening every year. There’s no question that every March, college basketball dominates the sports world.
How are NCAA Tournament teams selected?
The NCAA appoints a selection committee to evaluate the nation’s basketball teams and select who makes the March Madness tournament. There are two ways to qualify for the competition:
- Win your conference tournament
- Get selected for an at-large bid
The selection committee gives each team a seed in one of the four regional brackets. The better the team is, the higher your seed will be. The selection committee team ranks based on multiple factors, including win-loss record, strength of schedule, non-conference victories, road victories, conference performance, and victories over top 25 teams.
The strength of a team’s conference also comes into play. For example, a team with 20 wins in a Power 5 conference and a strong out of conference schedule might get the nod over a mid-major with more wins but fewer quality opponents. The selection committee can also look for signature victories over top teams.
After all the conference tournaments have concluded, the committee makes their official picks and unveils them during “Selection Sunday.” This is when the entire bracket is revealed with every matchup included.
How many teams make the NCAA March Madness Tournament?
Every March, Selection Sunday is when college basketball players nationwide tune in to find out if their team is invited to the big dance. But exactly how many teams are selected?
According to the NCAA website, currently, 68 teams make the NCAA Tournament. That includes this is an expansion from the previous number of 64. Four teams were added with a mini-play-in round (called The First Four) deciding who gets the last four available seeds in the competition.
This year’s tournament will have a unique setup thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, games take place at regional sites all across the country, with multiple sites in each region.
This year, all the games are taking place within an extended “bubble” in the state of Indiana. Games will be held at the following locations across the state:
- Lucas Oil Stadium
- Bankers Life Fieldhouse
- Hinkle Fieldhouse
- Indiana Farmers Coliseum
- Mackey Arena
- Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall
Teams will all have hotel floors with no one but team personnel on their floor. There are dining rooms where they can maintain social distancing as well. This year’s 68 team field will look more different than ever, but one thing’s for sure: basketball fans are glad just to have March Madness back after last year’s hiatus.