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When did March Madness begin? How many tournaments have there been?

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament has only been canceled once in its 80-year history.

Detail of a NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament sign.

A competition best known by the name ‘March Madness,’ the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament began life as an eight-team affair in 1939, with Oregon winning the US national title by beating Ohio State in the first-ever championship game.

March Madness to be played for the 85th time in 2024

Since that inaugural event, there have been a total of 84 editions of the college basketball tournament, which has grown from its initial size to its current 68-team format.

March Madness’s cancellation in 2020, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, is the only year in its history that the event has not been held.

March Madness doubles in size again and again

After 12 seasons as an eight-team competition, the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament expanded to 16 in 1951 before growing again to 32 in 1975. In 1985, it doubled in size for a third time to 64 participants.

In 2001, a preliminary-round game was introduced when the Mountain West Conference joined NCAA Division I, increasing the tournament field to 65. In 2011, three more teams were added to March Madness, creating three more preliminary games and leaving us with the current First Four round.

Where does the name March Madness come from?

The first reference to the term in US basketball is attributed to Henry V. Porter of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), the organization responsible for founding another similarly long-running tournament, the Illinois High School Boys Basketball Championship.

In 1939, Porter wrote an essay on the tournament entitled “March Madness,” according to an IHSA history of the event, the moniker stuck with local journalists.

It wasn’t until some four decades later that the NCAA’s tournament became known as March Madness after the television broadcaster Brent Musberger used the phrase during CBS’ tournament coverage in 1982.

March Madness’ most decorated team

UCLA’s 11 March Madness titles make the college the competition’s most successful team, albeit the Bruins haven’t won an NCAA championship since 1995. Ten of UCLA’s titles came during 12 years between 1963 and 1975, a run that included seven triumphs in a row from 1967 to 1973.