The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness, is an annual college basketball tournament that has grown into one of the most popular sporting events in the country. It begins every year around mid-March, hence the name.
Each year, 68 teams are chosen to take part in this single-elimination tournament, the winner of which is declared the national champion. The 32 champions of the Division I conferences are automatically entered, while the other 36 teams are granted at-large bids. This means the selection committee looks at the rest of the Division I teams and picks who they see as tournament ready.
From there, the teams are split into four regions, East, South, Midwest and West, and play throughout six rounds. The tournament officially begins on Selection Sunday, which is the Sunday before the first game. At that time, the selection committee announces regional brackets and gives every team a seed number from one to 16. A team with a one is the highest-ranking team in the region while a team with a 16 is the lowest. Each region has its own seed ranking.
There are, however, several games played before the traditional tournament begins. The lowest seeded teams compete in four play-in games, known as the First Four, for placement in the regular tournament bracket.
After that, it’s on. The regional semi-final teams are called the Sweet Sixteen, and from there they fall into the Elite Eight and Final Four. The two winners from there move into the National Championship.
The University of Oregon was the first-ever national champion for college basketball, beating Ohio State University 46-33 on March 27, 1939. When the tournament first started, only eight teams were invited. Over the years, that number continued to grow until 2011 when the NCAA settled on 68 teams. Though looking at history, that number is likely to only grow, especially since the organizers were looking to include 96 teams in 2010.
The tournament has also become a popular gambling event, from single games to entire brackets, and it’s believed to be second only to the Super Bowl. The American Gaming Association estimated that people wagered $9.2 billion in 2016, though that number is hard to pin down since Nevada is the only state where people can legally bet on college sports.
Beyond betting, filling out a bracket has grown into a fun and common practice in offices across the country. This new cultural touchstone goes from workplace chatter to pop culture competition. In the past, former-president Barack Obama released his own brackets while in office and Warren Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone with a perfect bracket about three years ago.
This year, you can cheer on your favorite team during March Madness from March 14 to April 3. First and second round games will be held at the Amway Center, and the teams that are playing will be announced this month on Selection Sunday.