Explained: What is March Madness, the extremely popular US college basketball tourney?

From around mid-March to the beginning of April every year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments are held in the United States. The championship is informally known as “March Madness”, with great excitement among fans and wide media coverage.

While both men’s and women’s tournaments are held, March Madness is most commonly used in respect of the men’s tournament, a single-elimination competition among 68 teams that takes place over seven rounds.

The South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the UConn Huskies to win the 2022 women’s championship on Sunday night. The men’s championship game was scheduled for Monday night between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Kansas Jayhawks in New Orleans.

TOURNAMENT: According to the NCAA website, the first NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament was held in 1939, and then every year until the 2019-20 season. The 2020 tournament was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The inaugural tournament, which was won by the Oregon Ducks, had eight teams; The field was doubled to 16 in 1951, and to 64 in 1985. Since 2011, 68 teams have taken part in the tournament. Thirty-seven teams have won the championship so far, led by UCLA, which has won 11 times – 10 of those victories coming in 12 years from 1964 to 1975. The 2021 championship was won by the Baylor Bears.

ORIGIN OF TERM: The term March Madness was first used to refer to basketball by an Illinois high school official, Henry V Porter, in 1939. The expression found its way to the NCAA tournament when CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger, who used to be a sports writer in Chicago, employed during the coverage of the 1982 tournament. The term has been synonymous with the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament ever since, according to the NCAA.

GENDER INEQUITY: The NCAA has long been accused of discriminating between the men’s and women’s tournaments. A review prepared by civil rights litigator Roberta A Kaplan and her law firm and published in August 2021 said NCAA’s financial dependence on the men’s tournament has fueled gender inequity in college sports, The New York Times reported.

“The NCAA’s broadcast agreements, corporate sponsorship contracts, distribution of revenue, organizational structure and culture all prioritize Division I men’s basketball over everything else in ways that create, normalize and perpetuate gender inequities,” the report said. “At the same time, the NCAA does not have structures or systems in place to identify, prevent or address those inequities.”

Last year, a star woman player, Sedona Prince of Oregon, posted a TikTok video that showed the difference in weight rooms at the men’s and women’s tournaments. “If you’re not upset about this problem, then you’re a part of it,” she said in the video that went viral.


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