Sports fans young and old enjoy betting on college basketball during March Madness. Everyone has a bracket and their predictions for each of the 63 games. March Madness got as huge as it is because of sports wagering. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship owes its popularity to the basketball pool. Every sports news publication and website is flooded with NCAA information and a copy of the 65 team bracket. In the month of March, millions of sports fans will talk about who to put in the Sweet 16 and what the outcomes will be. Employees across the country will be gathering around the watering hole, talking about their picks and brackets.
However, the tournament hasn’t always been this intense. In fact, March Madness did not originate around the press or the publicity of the multimillion dollar sports industry. In 1939, the NCAA started a postseason tournament for teams with conference affiliation. Schools such as Notre Dame, Marquette and Temple were unable to secure bids into the NCAA because of their independent status. Instead, these schools played in the National Invitational Tournament which was the NCAA’s postseason rival that started the year before.
The NIT was created by New York City’s five colleges to showcase East Coast basketball. It was played at Madison Square Gardens. The NCAA changed its rules in the ’50s and allowing more conferences to participate in the tournament, creating at large bids for schools not affiliated with a conference. The bracket grew from 8 teams to 16 teams in 1951 and eventually 24 teams by the following year. In the ’70s, forty teams were invited each March, and in the ’80s the NCAA had 64 teams, a full 4 region bracket with sixteen teams each.
More popularity came with the increase in teams. UCLA was in the spotlight under the tutelage of John Wooden when the Final Four began to be played in larger stadiums. The games got even more coverage when NBC broadcasted the Final Four to a national television audience in the ’60s. Larry Bird, faced off against Magic Johnson in the national championship game in 1979. Magic Johnson’s team, Michigan State Spartans, won the title that year in a game that ended up being the most viewed college basketball game in television history. This game brought millions of new college basketball fans to the sport.
During the past 25 years, equality has hit the NCAA Tournament, altering the results. The top seeds fight it out from the first round to the last to get to the Final Four. Today, March Madness is the most popular ring of sporting events next to the Super Bowl. As we get closer to the Conference Tournaments and the First Round, sports fans will be making their picks to place their bets on their favorite teams.