March Madness is one of the coolest sporting events in the world, and it begins this week. But before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the team matchups, we figured we’d throw a couple of interesting nuggets out there to the casual observer who checks out college hoops once a year during tournament time. Just about everybody gets in on March Madness betting and BetMGM’s $2 Million Bracket Challenge.
Did you know?
THE FIRST TOURNAMENT
THE STORY: The first version of March Madness took place in 1939 in Evanston, Ill., the campus of Northwestern University. That’s pretty interesting, considering Northwestern was one of the last original Division I basketball programs in America to get into the NCAA Tournament, accomplishing it just a few years ago.
Among the estimated 5,000 or so spectators in attendance was a 77-year old James Naismith, the man who invented the game of basketball and wrote its initial rulebook. He would pass away later in 1939.
Beginning on March 17, eight teams competed for the title — Brown, Ohio State, Villanova, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, and Utah State. Oregon beat Ohio State in the final.
Unfortunately for tournament organizers, the first event lost money. Today, it’s hard to believe the Big Dance could lose revenue, but that was the case. The deficit wasn’t exactly astronomical: It was about $2,500. Still, something special was born, and the idea blossomed from there. An iconic American sports experience was born.
THE DUNK — BANNED
THE STORY: Prior to the 1967-68 season, the NCAA banned the dunk because of concerns over injury and it “not being a skillful shot.” It wasn’t reinstated until nearly a decade later, in 1976.
Can you envision the NCAA basketball tournament without dunks? In fact, there were more than 19,000 dunks in men’s basketball in the 2018-19 season, up from more than 17,000 just five years earlier.
It’s just hard to imagine college hoops without the dunk. One of March Madness’ best bets is that if you’re patient, a thunderous dunk will happen soon.
HOGGING THE TITLES
THE STORY: Perhaps no example of dominance in sports is more impressive than what UCLA did between 1963-75 under head coach John Wooden. During that 12-season span, the Bruins won 10 national titles. In those 10 title years, the program only lost 10 total regular-season games.
Shortly after World War II, Wooden took on the UCLA program, coming from Indiana State to California before the 1948-49 season.
He would go on to recruit talents like Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton, two cornerstones and future NBA stars who were around for a majority of those championships.
DRAWING BIG CROWDS
THE STORY: Typically, an on-campus basketball arena at a big-name school fits about 10,000 to 20,000. Syracuse’s Carrier Dome (33,000) is a notable exception, and five other schools (Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgetown) are above 20,000.
But when it comes to the Big Dance, attendance goes way up.
So, how big was the largest crowd to ever see an NCAA championship game? That honor goes to the Georgia Dome in 2013, when the Louisville-Michigan game drew a record of 74,326 spectators.
Talk about packing it to the rafters.
THE PANDEMIC EFFECT
THE STORY: Thanks to the ongoing global pandemic, this year’s tournament will be played in one central location. The state of Indiana will play host to the whole thing, breaking from the tradition of having regional hosting locations all over the country.
The games will be played on two courts held within Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and other courts in the area. The Indiana towns of West Lafayette and Bloomington will also host matchups.
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Brian McLaughlin is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of BMac and Herd’s FCS Podcast. He has written for The Sporting News, headed up the PARADE Magazine High School All American teams, covered FCS college football for HERO Sports … and two NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments (2009 and 2010). Follow BMac on Twitter @BrianMacWriter.