Who Coined the Term March Madness? Why Do They Call It March Madness?
by Matt Severance
Nowadays, March Madness is a sports term as familiar to most Americans as is Super Bowl or Stanley Cup, yet the college basketball moniker is fairly new when applied to the NCAA Tournament.
However, have you ever wondered who coined the term March Madness or why they call it March Madness? High school basketball was about the most popular sport in the state of Illinois in the first few decades of the 20th Century. By the mid-1930s, more than 900 schools were competing in the Illinois statewide tournament, which began back in 1908.
In 1939, Henry V. Porter, the assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, first put the term March Madness to paper when he wrote an essay entitled "March Madness" to commemorate the state tournament in an IHSA magazine. His essay hinted that "a little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.''
It was catchy, to be sure, and became a hit among Midwest newspapers. It was the unofficial title of the Illinois state tournament for decades. (Porter also wrote a poem in 1942 that read in part: The Madness of March is running. The winged feet fly, the ball sails high. And field goal hunters are gunning.)
Beginning in 1973, the IHSA began using the term officially in its programs and on its merchandise. In 1977, the organization hired sportswriter and Big Ten basketball referee Jim Enright to write the official history of the boys basketball tournament, which would end up being titled March Madness: The Story of High School Basketball in Illinois.
March Madness remained pretty much limited to Illinois until 1982, when former CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger, who went to Northwestern and began his career as a Chicago sportswriter, used it during NCAA Tournament coverage that year.
''Brent Musburger used it,'' said Kevin O'Malley, a former CBS Sports executive, to the New York Times in a 2005 article. ''Around that time, some people used the phrase in print. Maybe some Midwestern writers used it, but it really blossomed when the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.''
That wasn't the end, however. The IHSA and NCAA both attempted to trademark the term, which led to the inevitable lawsuit. In 1996, a federal circuit court ruled in a suit filed by the IHSA against an NCAA sponsor, GTE, that the phrase had a ''dual use'' beyond the high school tournament.
The two sides then agreed to form the March Madness Athletic Association, a joint holding company. The IHSA holds the high school rights, the NCAA the rest.