March Madness: The Creation of the Phrase and the 1966 Title Game that Changed Everything by Madison Rice

In the United States, all college basketball fans can look forward to the end of February and the beginning of March Madness. Since the late 1930’s the phrase “March madness” has been used to describe the chaos ensuing each round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I nationwide basketball tournament. The first mention of “March madness” was from the executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), Henry V. Porter; who in 1939 wrote, “A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” The phrase was given a modern day revival when CBS television commentator, Brent Musburger used the phrase in 1982, allowing it to gain momentum within present day fans. Now days, the phrases “march madness” and the NCAA tournament are synonymous. Over the years this tournament has created many intense loyalties among cities and states. The nationwide tournament has grown from originally allowing 8 teams to enter the bracket to allowing for 68 teams to compete in the tournament each season. This tournament has led to many iconic moments in American sports history. It is very important to college basketball fans, as every state in the continental U.S.  has at least one team with a chance to make it to march madness. One particularly important year was in 1966, when Texas-Western won the title against the No. 1 seed, Kentucky, with an all African-American starting five. This win was crucial for the development of the game as a whole, and led to a more inclusive culture of Division I basketball.

Here in Kentucky, the University of Kentucky has had a long-standing tradition of success, although this years’ team has not been living up to their reputation. Kentucky basketball fans have an extremely intense culture. I have noticed that the Kentucky fans at Centre College have quieted down considerably compared to last year when U.K. was SEC Champions and the Cats went 32-6 overall. Looking at the 1966 season, Kentucky’s men were beaten in by Texas Western in a racially charged game that came only two years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was the first time that the five starters in the game had ever been African American. “In the years immediately after Texas Western’s title, the integration of college sports took a great leap forward. Between 1966 and 1985, the average number of blacks on college teams jumped from 2.9 to 5.7.” (Fitzpatrick) That was an extremely important leap for NCAA Division I basketball,and it set the standard for including African Americans in competition. This event helped show the country that basketball was a game that can be played by everyone. This game was the only NCAA title game that Coach Rupp (of Kentucky) lost. It is noted by friends that Coach Rupp still was upset by the loss as he was on his death bed. It was especially significant that Kentucky lost this game because Coach Rupp was famously slow to accept integration and it was not until 1970 that he dressed a black player on one of his teams. It was said by his friends that Rupp always blamed this particular loss anything besides the fact that the players from Texas Western were just better than his.

Tomorrow is the start of 2018’s March Madness and it is one much different than those in Evansville in 1958 orin Maryland in 1966. Today’s college basketball culture is one of inclusion. I know myself, as well as many other fans in the United States, will be looking forward to whatever excitement may come this March. Overall, it was the NCAA Division Championship of 1966 that kicked off a new attitude for teams in terms of recruiting and playing African American players. This game will forever stand as a moment in United States basketball history.

(658 Words)

Domenico, Daniel D. “Mark Madness: How Brent Musburger and the Miracle Bra May Have Led to a More Equitable and Efficient Understanding of the Reverse Confusion Doctrine in Trademark Law.” Virginia Law Review86, no. 3 (2000): 597. doi:10.2307/1073963.

ESPN. Accessed February 28, 2018.

Engelhardt, Gordon. “‘March Madness’ had roots in Indiana before Illinois or the NCAA began using the phrase.” Evansville Courier & Press. February 24, 2018. Accessed February 28, 2018.

Ihsa. Search Results. Accessed February 28, 2018.


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