March Madness history features constant growth

Posted March 23, 2009, at 11:23 p.m.

Are you caught up in all this so-called “March Madness” yet? I am.

The famous term, describing all this college basketball hoopla was not coined, ironically, by the good folks at CBS or ESPN, for that matter.

In fact, that famous term came out of the Illinois high school basketball tournament in 1939, when Harry Porter penned an article entitled “March Madness” for the athletic association’s magazine.

It wasn’t until 1982 – the same year Division I women crowned their first hoop champion — that CBS grabbed the clever moniker or nickname, if you will, when broadcaster Brent Musberger started using it during his coverage of the college tournament games.

The IHSA fought back.

Eventually, both groups were allowed to use “March Madness” in what was later to be called the March Madness Athletic Association.

Ah, the legal system in all its glory.

The other intriguing aspect of all this tournament hoopla is the history of the Division I postseason tourney itself.

Oddly enough, the original Division I championship fare was the NIT tourney. When teams started crossing over and playing both postseason thrillers, the NCAA thing caught on.

Expansion began, and the “March Madness” expanded quickly. In 1951, the NCAA field expanded from eight to 16 teams.

In 1952, the NCAA started celebrating its first Final Four. In 1953, the field expanded to 22 teams. In 1956, the so-called Big Show is divided into four geographical regions.

Enter television.

NBC paid $140,000 to cover the tournament for the next five years.

In 1975, the field expanded to 32. In 1979, the field got even bigger, moving to 40 eligible teams.

By the next year, the field was increased to 48 teams. With TV money rolling in, the field continued to grow. In 1984, 53 teams were eligible to play.

By 1991, CBS paid over a billion dollars — consider that — and by 2001, a play-in game made the illustrious field 65.

I was lucky enough to see the New Mexico Final Four extravaganza — well, most of it, anyway — in 1983.

And I can tell you this: if you are a basketball nut, you owe it to yourself to see one of these events in-person in your lifetime.

Next up, the Sweet 16, which, for the record, involved a legal compromise between the state of Kentucky and CBS.

Sweet 16 was trademarked by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association in 1988 as a handle for its own tournament, and the rest, as they say, is history.

30-Second Time Out

I was glad to see former Holy Cross and Seton Hall men’s hoop coach George Blaney get a little sunshine this past week as he took over for an ailing UConn coach Jim Calhoun while he was having tests run in a local hospital.

Blaney, no stranger to D-I head coaching, currently serves the Connecticut program as an associate head coach.

All this college talk makes me wonder where UMaine standout guard Mark Socoby will end up after announcing his departure from Orono after this semester.

All of that reminds me of the time UMaine’s Rick Carlisle took his flashy guard play to the University of Virginia.

The blow to coach Skip Chappelle’s program was similar to the one the University of Vermont took when Boston College acquired the services of flashy forward Joe Trapani, who sat out the 2007-08 season before becoming eligible to play at BC.

Carlisle wound up in the NBA. Will Socoby fare that well? We’ll have to wait and see.

bdnsports@bangordailynews.net

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