March Madness

We all remember the global financial crisis but don’t let that make you gloomy because that was the year a star was born. A baby-faced skinny assassin was the point guard for a relatively small Davidson team having qualified for the March NCAA tournament of 2008. The young chap lacked the physicality of basketball players and many colleges passed on enrolling him before Davidson signed him up. Davidson didn’t qualify for the final four, after coming up a shot with one basket only. It is the tournament that left everyone across the US talking about one specific player: Stephen Curry. The kids could IQ and shooting for his size had been unprecedented in the basketball world before. He stood at less than 6 feet, basketball was considered as a sport for seven-footers during those days. Well, the rest is history as they say. Below is a comprehensive write up about the March Madness – NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Current Tournament Format

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Men’s Basketball held every spring in the US is a single elimination tournament featuring Division I teams. Over the years the NCAA has changed names from March Madness and Big Dance to the current NCAA since 2011. The number of teams participating has increased. The NCAA basketball tournament is played between March and April by a total of 68 teams. The first 32 teams that have a sponsored basketball teams are based on a tournament style, but a Selection Committee determines the remaining 36 teams’ slots. The Committee is made up of athletic directors and commissioners chosen by the NCAA whose one of the jobs is to seed the 68 teams. Another duty is to divide the 68 teams into four regions each containing at least 16 teams based on factors such as proximity to each other.

The Committee seeds all the teams from no. 1 to 68 where the top 4 teams are placed in all four regions. The four teams are distributed among the four areas and earn the no. 2 seed in each locality, and this systematically applies for the rest of the teams. But this might not always be the case as there are some basic rules to be adhered to. Teams from the same conference can’t play each other until the regional finals, first and second rounds matches can’t have teams that played the regular season or previous year’s tournaments playing against each other. If this rule is not satisfied with the initial seeding, reseeding of specific teams is done to ensure the above rules are satisfied. In the semi-finals, the champion of the first bracket plays against the winner of the fourth-rated bracket, while the champions of second and third brackets play each other.

The NCAA rules prohibit a team from playing on a home court though there are exceptions to this rule. The final four venues are determined in advance and can’t be changed. There is a probability a team reaches the last four and plays at their home court. The rounds of this tournament follow in the chronological order below;

  1. First Four. Referring to no. of games played no. of teams are games between four lowest ‘at large’ teams against four lowest ‘automatic bid’ teams. The games are played early in the week between Selection Sunday and First Round.
  2. First and Second Rounds. After four teams are eliminated, 64 teams remaining play each other in the below format. Each top seed plays against the last seed in each bracket on Thursday and Friday the same week, and 32 teams remain. On Saturday and Sunday, the teams play each other, and 16 teams remain famously known as Sweet Sixteen.

III. Regional Semi-finals and Finals. During the second week, the Sweet Sixteen play each other and become the Elite Eight. They proceed to play against each other, and the Final Four remain.

  1. Final Four. These are the winners from each region advance and play by overall rankings.

Winners and Appearances

UCLA is the school that has won most titles with 11. Mid-major teams have also experienced success. Some conferences were referred to as important conferences in the past but were downgraded to mid-major. Conference USA was demoted in 2005 after big teams left for Big East Conference, The WAC was demoted in 1999 when half of its members moved for Mountain West Conference, and MW was downgraded in 2011 when BYU and Utah left for other conferences. 11 mid-major leagues saw successes in the tournament in the past but were dissolved over time, e.g. Border Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, East Coast Conference, and Great Midwest Conference among others. There are also schools that have gone an extended period before making appearances, e.g., Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Rice among others. The Associated Press has identified major college and small college always due to the actual basketball ratings. Army, William & Mary, Citadel, and St. Francis Brooklyn are considered major college but are yet to reach the national tournament.

Evolution of the Tournament

Over the years, the NCAA tournament has for several times changed its format since 1939. Please see the changes below.

  1. The significant expansion of the field was beneficial. The NCAA tournament number of participants has increased over time. In 1939 there were 8 teams, 1951 there were 16 teams, 1953 there were between 22 and 25 teams, 1975 there were 32 teams, 1979 there were 40 teams, 1980 there were 48 teams, 1983 there were 52 teams, 1984 there were 53 teams, 1985 there were 64 teams, 2001 there were 65 teams, and in 2011 there were 68 teams. This number has remained to date.
  2. The seeding History and Statistics. It started in 1978 for teams that automatically qualified and ‘at-large’ teams, but in 1979, all teams were seeded. In 2012, full seed numbers system was adopted, and the #1 seed was known.

III. Venues. Different cities and arenas have hosted the Final Four tournaments, Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Madison Square Garden in NYC, Louisville’s Freedom Hall and Indianapolis are the top 4 venues to hold the NCAA many times.

  1. Stadium size and Domes. Over time the policy of hosting games in domes and sizes has changed due to reasons such as capacity, layouts, geographical layouts, etc.
  2. Several other changes have taken place that deserves mention, e.g., semi-final seeding, pod system, play-in round naming, play-in games, consolation games, and bids per conferences.

Other notables are home court advantages policy which prohibited teams playing at home had loopholes since a team that qualified in the Final Four could find it playing at or near home. Another change is the flag controversy affecting Bi-Lo center, but the ban was lifted in 2015. Last but not least is the House Bill 2 which resulted in a ban of a specified period for the state of North Carolina.

Rituals and Conferences

Cutting down the net is an accepted tournament ritual at the end of a regional or championship national game for the winning team. The winning team is awarded a wooden gold-plated NCAA National Championship Trophy and an NABC trophy. The team that loses the finals is awarded silver-plated runners-up national trophy. Championship rings are given to the champions, and the final four teams are given Final Four rings. One player who most times is from the winning team is selected and awarded Most Outlandish Player though many people confuse this award with Most Valuable Player.

The immensely popular National Basketball Association Draft is held three months after the NCAA tournament and all NBA executives’ decision on who to draft in the first pick or second picks. It carries very well with my introduction statement on the importance of the March Madness Performing well in the March Madness is not a guarantee to be successful in professional NBA.

Television coverage and revenues

Since 2010, mainstream media has supported the NCAA tournaments. CBS, TNT, TBS, and tru TV. As per the contract, all First Four games are on tru TV, first and second round games are aired on TBS, TNT, and tru TV while CBS can only show a featured match at this stage. Sweet sixteen is televised between TBS and CBS. Elite Eight is aired on TBS, and the regional and national finals are broadcasted on CBS since it holds the exclusive rights.

CBS broadcast gives NCAA $ 500m annually worth of revenues. The revenues which count for 90% of NCAA annual revenue is divided among schools that play Division I in a structured agreed format. Please note that NCAA holds no profits.

From 1969 to 1981 NCAA tournament some selected games were aired on NBC and 1982 CBS acquired exclusive rights. ESPN also joined the fray and aired competitive opening round games which increased the broadcast popularity. However, ESPN became a victim of its success when CBS was awarded exclusive rights to the NCAA tournament among other reasons, its ability to reach a wider audience than ESPN. Since Viacom owns both TNN and CBS, some games were aired on TNN hosted by CBS broadcasters.

In 1999, Direct TV offered a March Madness premium package to games not shown on local stations and this promoted CBS in 2003 to provide live streaming via Yahoo. In 1999, HDTV started airing the Final Four games in high definition, but over the years this has expanded to cover other sports. Since 2011, ESPN International holds the NCAA international broadcasting rights and can distribute the same to other networks and broadcasts.

Tournament and Statistics

Some low seeded teams have achieved the national honor of progressing to further rounds, and some become champions, e.g., Villanova (no. 8 seed) in 1985, and Connecticut (no. 7 seed) in 2014 since expansion to 64 teams. Since increase to 64 teams in 1985, no team seeded as no. 16 has ever beaten a no. 1 seed, but a few teams have lost by 4 or fewer teams. Murray State lost to Michigan State by 4 points after forcing the game into overtime. Other low seeded teams have managed to achieve impressive feats like progressing to Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight or Final Four. Some records are unwanted such as the one held by Georgetown. Georgetown is the only team to ever loose against teams seeded five spots or lower in 5 consecutive tournament appearances. A no. 1 team is yet to lose to a no. 16 team but if it happened, it could be defined as an upset.

Only once has four no. 1 seeds qualified for the Final Four, i.e., Kansa, North Carolina, UCLA, and Memphis in 2008. Three times there has been a Final Four without a no. 1 seed, i.e., 1980, 2006, and 2011. Teams seeded as no. 1 have a strong record of 13-4 against other seeds in the championship finals. In 1997, Arizona beat three no. One rated seed, and in 2011, Connecticut rated as no. 3 was the highest rated seed in the Final Four. Since the tournament was expanded to 48 teams in 1980, no undefeated team failed to qualify. It’s worthy to note that nine times a reigning champion has been unable to appear in the next year’s tournament. John Wooden is the most successful coach with ten national championships, but among currently active coaches, Mike Krzyzewski has a tally 5. Kentucky is the most successful team to win a tournament coached by five different coaches. The most significant margin of victory known as point differential is UNLV beating Duke by 30 points in 1990. In 1957, a championship game went to triple overtime and since then only seven times such games have proceeded to overtime. It’s also happened that six times a championship game has been won by a single point. Nine different schools were able to win a championship game by averaging 10 points per game through the tournament 12 times.

Host Cities

Different cities have held the tournament since 1939, and the list runs all the way to 2023. This year the host city will be Alamodome in San Antonio.

Popular Culture

There are gambling related contests on who can list brackets most correctly. There are 2^63 probabilities in a 64 NCAA tournament. Warren Buffet offered $1b for anybody who would predict the 2014 competition, but nobody managed. Tournament terms are not cast in stone but are accepted terms as per American sports language. March Madness is a registered trademark by NCAA. The Sweet Sixteen term coined by Kentucky high school is an officially registered trademark that is licensed to NCAA for use. Other sports have adopted the term Final Four. A Cinderella team is a lowly seeded tournament that causes an upset in the tournament.

In conclusion, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball is one of the favorite platforms for aspiring players to get a foot in the NBA through the draft. Stars are born in such tournaments year in year out just like our introductory statement. The level of organization is very commendable and can be a benchmark to other countries globally.

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