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A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad March
Phil Taylor
March 19, 2007
Slowly but steadily, the NCAA tournament became the spectacle we know today
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March 19, 2007

A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad March

Slowly but steadily, the NCAA tournament became the spectacle we know today

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1939-49
TEAMS: 8 AVG. ATTENDANCE: 10,782

SIGNATURE TV DEAL: Limited local coverage but no national contract

The Buzz: It seemed like a bad omen for the tournament's future when Oregon guard Bobby Anet broke the championship trophy during the inaugural title game, crashing into a table while chasing a loose ball. The Ducks beat Ohio State (right) 46--33 for the title at Northwestern's Patten Gym, but the tournament was a money-loser, finishing $2,531 in the red, and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, which sponsored the event, turned it over to the NCAA. The finances improved the next year when Indiana beat Kansas 60--42 in the title game; each finalist took home a whopping $750. But the tournament was still operating in the shadow of the more glamorous NIT. Indeed, in 1944 Utah declined an NCAA bid in order to go to the NIT, where the Utes lost in the first round. But after a car accident forced Arkansas to withdraw from the NCAA tournament, Utah was named a last-second replacement and won the NCAA title as a consolation prize.

1950-59
TEAMS: 8, expanded to 16 in '51, then between 22 and 25 from '53 on

AVG. ATTENDANCE: 9,931

SIGNATURE TV DEAL: A national syndicator pays $7,500 to televise the 1954 title game

The Buzz: The decade began with a couple of shockers. City College of New York is believed to have first inspired the term Cinderella from sportswriters, as the 17--5 Beavers surprised everyone in 1950 by becoming the first--and only--team to win both the NIT and the NCAA championships. The following year several CCNY players were arrested for point shaving, part of a major gambling scandal involving seven schools that gave the tournament, and the sport, a black eye. But it was also during the '50s that the tournament began to resemble the one we know today. In '52 the four semifinalists met in Seattle, the first time the "final four" had gathered in one city for the semifinals and title game, and in '56 the field was first divided into four geographic regions. By the end of the decade the tournament had largely emerged from the embarrassment of the point-shaving scandal, helped by Bill Russell (left), K.C. Jones and the rest of the San Francisco Dons, who won consecutive titles in '55 and '56, and by North Carolina's triple-OT win over Kansas in '57, the first bitter loss of many for the dominating Jayhawks center-- Wilt Chamberlain.

1960-69
TEAMS: Fluctuated between 22 and 25 AVG. ATTENDANCE: 11,093

SIGNATURE TV DEAL: Nationally syndicated Sports Network signs six-year, $140,000 contract in 1963

The Buzz: The championship game, then played on Saturday afternoon after Friday's semifinals, was broadcast on network television for the first time in 1962, but it wasn't a sign of booming popularity. ABC taped Cincinnati's 71--59 victory over Ohio State and aired it later that day, condensed into a 90-minute package on Wide World of Sports. The tournament also was not immune to the controversies of the civil rights era. In 1963 Mississippi State accepted an invitation to the NCAAs despite pressure from the state's segregationist governor, Ross Barnett, who didn't want the team to play against black players. After an opening-round bye, the Bulldogs lost to Loyola (Ill.), which had four black starters and eventually won the title. Three years later, in a watershed game, Texas Western, with five black starters, upset all-white Kentucky for the national championship. Other than that, the decade could be summed up in four letters--U-C-L-A--with Lew Alcindor (left) a dominant force as part of a Bruins' run of 10 titles in 12 years.

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