March Madness History: From its Origins to the Banning of the Slam Dunk

Arizona will host the highly anticipated 2024 Men’s Final Four at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, with the national semifinals on Saturday, April 6 and the National Championship game on Monday, April 8. From fun facts to outstanding records, let’s take a look back at the history of the NCAA tournament and March Madness.

In a Nutshell: A Short History of March Madness

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, an exciting showcase of athleticism and spirit, embarked on its journey in 1939 with just eight teams. Over the decades, this tournament has blossomed, expanding to 16 teams by 1951, then to 32 in 1975 and eventually adopting its current scale of 64 teams in 1985.

Outstanding Records to Beat 

Throughout its history, March Madness has seen incredible individual achievements. For example, Duke’s Christian Laettner holds the title for the all-time leading scorer with 407 points. 

The tournament has also been a stage for impressive team records, such as Kentucky’s remarkable 58 appearances and 129 wins, and UCLA’s unparalleled 11 national championships.

March Madness has displayed riveting record-setting games, like the highest-scoring match on March 18, 1990, when Loyola Marymount triumphed over Michigan with a staggering 264 points combined.

Where Does the Phrase “March Madness” Originate? 

The term “March Madness,” now synonymous with the fervor of NCAA basketball, has its roots far from the collegiate courts. Coined by Henry V. Porter, an Illinois high school official, in 1939, the phrase initially captured the exhilaration surrounding the Illinois statewide high school basketball tournament. In a March 1939 Illinois High School Athlete magazine issue, Porter eloquently expressed the collective anticipation for this annual sporting event, introducing “March Madness” to describe the tournament’s captivating allure.

In 1942, Porter penned the poem “Basketball Ides of March” for the Illinois Interscholastic publication, further immortalizing the phrase. However, it wasn’t until several decades later that “March Madness” would transcend its high school origins. The term found its way into the lexicon of college basketball in the early 1980s, particularly after Brent Musburger, a CBS broadcaster, popularized the term for the NCAA tournament during the 1982 tournament coverage.

The title of “Final Four,” now synonymous with the tournament’s climax, was officially embraced by the NCAA in 1978, though it had been used informally since a 1975 article. 

What is “One Shining Moment” in March Madness?

Amidst the intense matches and unforgettable moments, the song “One Shining Moment” emerged as the tournament’s anthem. First airing in 1987, this song was composed by David Barrett in 1986. Initially intended for the Super Bowl, it found its rightful home in March Madness. Since then, it has become a tradition to play the song alongside a montage of the tournament’s pinnacle moments, from buzzer-beaters to the raw emotions of victory and defeat.

Final Four Fun Facts

  • No matter the location of the Final Four, each court is set with the same Michigan-sourced sugar maple wood flooring.   
  • The NCAA once banned the slam dunk, from 1967 to 1976, a move that seems unimaginable today given the excitement it brings to the game.
  • The chances of picking a perfect March Madness bracket are approximately 1 in 9.2 quintillion if chosen randomly, and 1 in 120.2 billion if you make educated guesses. 

From its modest beginnings to becoming a staple of American sports culture, March Madness continues to captivate fans with its blend of athletic excellence, historic milestones and the sheer unpredictability that keeps everyone on the edge of their seats.

Learn more about the NCAA and stay up to date on this year’s 2024 Men’s Final Four in Phoenix at

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