If it weren't for a Canadian-American inventor by the name of Dr. James Naismith, the month of March would have undoubtedly been a month without much sporting excitement. Occurring two months after the college football season and one month prior to opening day in baseball, the invention of basketball seems to have filled the March sporting void that would have otherwise been present in many homes across the country.
Like many great events or companies in this world, the beginnings are always small and humble.
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The beginning of such a tournament, that we know and love today is credited to Harold Olsen, who at the time was the head basketball coach at Ohio State. With his vision in mind and the backing from the National Association of Basketball Coaches to make his idea a reality, the tournament was born with the simplest of approaches.
Eight very lucky teams were invited to the tournament, which took a measly 10 days to complete start to finish in 1939. The inaugural championship went to the University of Oregon, who completed a season at 29-5 and entered the tournament as a No.3 seed. They proceeded to beat Ohio State 46-33 in the championship game.
The tournament held true to itself up until 1951, when expansion was introduced and the field of participants doubled to 16. The idea of expansion was a crucial step in distancing itself from the NIT basketball tournament, which was created a year prior to the NCAA in 1938 and at the time was more prestigious.
The 1951 NCAA tournament format was as much a one-and-done as a freshman playing for Kentucky. Instantly following the NCAA championship game, which saw Kentucky defeat Kansas State, it was announced that the format for next year's tournament was subject to change. Moving forward the tournament was expanding to between 22 and 25 teams. This expansion held serve for 21 years (1953-1974) before the ultimate development took place in 1975.
It should be noted that prior to 1975, only one team per conference could partake in NCAA tournament. This led to a major backlash concerning several highly-ranked teams in the country who were denied entrance into the tournament. For example, South Carolina was 14-0 in conference play during 1970, Southern Cal was ranked No. 2 in the nation during 1971, and Maryland was ranked No. 3 in the nation in 1974. This led the NCAA to begin admitting "at-large" teams in the tournament instead of just conference champions.
In 1954 the tournament, which was somewhat of a "you had to have been there" event, broke ground and televised its very first game. The championship game saw LaSalle beat Bradley by a score 94-76 much to the delight of those lucky enough to own a television. From 1969 to 1981, the NCAA tournament aired on NBC, but not all games were televised. The early-rounds in particular were usually the ones not to make the cut in favor of other programming. It was not until 1982 when CBS took over that the games starting getting regular airtime within their respective markets.
It was in 1975 when the tournament really began to take shape into the one that we know and love today. This was the year the field expanded to 32 teams and began to use the phrase "Final Four".
That was just another stepping stone in cementing this celebrated tournament as one of America's most beloved college basketball events.
The year was 1985 and the tournament was talking expansion once again, this time to 64 total teams. The buzz and excitement this move generated was universal throughout every college and university campus across the nation. The bigger the field, the more opportunity a smaller school had to get in. That is what America is all about - the land of opportunity.
Not much has changed in regards to tournament format since 1985, with the exception of two minor additions of one and two extra teams. From 2001-2010 there were 65 teams invited to participate, with the 64th and 65th team battling it out in a one-game elimination to see who would proceed to the second round of the tournament.
From 2011 to present day, the number of teams has risen to 68, with the last four teams in playing in a one-game elimination for the right to officially enter the tournament
It should be noted that when the "Play-in" games were announced in 2001, they were officially called the "first round" of the tournament. Many traditionalists like myself refused to acknowledge or refer to those games by that "first-round" title, so much so that for this years tournament the "play-in" games are being called the "First Four"
With any major sporting event come traditions that are kept and followed year after year. Whether it is playoff beards in hockey, singing "Take Me out to the Ball Game" in baseball, or playing national anthems before an international soccer match, the NCAA tournament has one of its own - cutting down the nets.
As a tradition, the winning teams from the regional and national championships partake in this event. This tradition is credited to Everett Case, who stood on his players' shoulders after North Carolina State won the Southern Conference tournament in 1947. As is tradition, the net cutting begins with seniors and works its way down the totem pole until the coach gets the last piece off the rim they just conquered.
- Harvard holds the longest drought between NCAA tournament appearances at 64 years. They appeared in the 1946 edition and then not again until 2012.
- The longest active tournament drought belongs to Tennessee Tech at 52 years and counting (last appearance 1963)
- There are five schools who have been Division I members since the classification began in 1948 who have never reached the national tournament. Army, The Citadel, Northwestern, St. Francis Brooklyn and William & Mary.
- The biggest upset in NCAA history was in 2012 when Norfolk State upset Missouri 86-84 as 21.5-point underdogs.
- UCLA holds the record for the most National Championships at 11
- John Wooden holds the record for most coaching National Championships at 10
- There have been 21 teams who have entered the tournament ranked No.1 in the AP poll and went on to claim the title.
- There have been nine tournaments where the reigning champion did not participate in the tournament the following year.
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