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History of Brackets & March Madness

2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Bracket


Year after year, millions of Americans fill out brackets during March Madness. It’s found that around 40 million Americans participate in the NCAA Tournament bracket every year. But where did brackets come from and how did March Madness start? Let’s jump in.

The very first bracket for a sports tournament was brought to us by an English chess master named Howard Staunton. The bracket was for a chess tournament in London after Staunton wanted to organize the world’s first ever international chess tournament.

The bracket got its’ name because the shape of sports brackets resemble the punctuation symbol of brackets: ] [  

After the chess tournament, Staunton admitted that his bracket wasn’t perfect. The main complaints were that with random drawing, some players, or in basketball terms- teams, got easier routes through the tournament and that top players (teams) were being paired against each other in the first round and one player (team) got eliminated very fast.

The modern NCAA tournament bracket solves both complaints in two ways.

The first way is with seeding. A 10-member group of school and conference administrators are responsible for the selecting and the seeding. There’s two types of seeding. The first is by region: East, West, Midwest and South. Teams are ranked 1-16 in each region’s seed. The second type is the overall seed. Here, teams are ranked 1-68 and this helps the group to decide which seeds should be placed in certain regions. The group tries not to place the best seed in the same region as the runner up so every region is balanced.

The second way is the use of the First Four. With this, the eight lowest-ranked teams still have a chance to fight for the national championship title so it’s an equal playing field for everyone.

So, when did the first NCAA Tournament Bracket make its’ appearance? It started back in 1939 and there were eight teams but they only had two regions: East and West. The Oregon Ducks beat Ohio State, 46-33, to win the national title in the first NCAA tournament. But, just because brackets started in 1939 didn’t mean they were instantly popular.

The first bracket pool didn’t start until 1977 thanks to a Staten Island bar. 88 people filled out their brackets and then had a competition of who’s bracket was most accurate for the grand prize of $10. Fast forward to 2006 where the same bar then had 150,000 participants and the grand prize was more than $1.5 million.  

2006 also marked the first year that the full NCAA Tournament bracket was enclosed on a web page thanks to NCAAsports.com.

First NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship bracket that was enclosed on a web page in 2006.

The term “March Madness” was used back in 1939 by an Illinois high school official whenever he was referring to basketball. The term didn’t come into the NCAA Tournament until Brent Musburger, a CBS broadcaster, used it during the coverage of the tournament in 1982. The term has stuck with the NCAA Tournament ever since.

If you were wondering who has scored the most amount of points during their NCAA Tournament career, that would have to go to Duke player Christian Laettner, scoring 407 points within his four years.

List of the players with the most amount of points during their NCAA Tournament career.

The highest scoring game in the NCAA tournament happened in 1990 when Loyola beat Michigan, 149-115. That’s a total of 264 points in a single game.

There have been 80 NCAA tournaments since 1939 and Kentucky has the most amount of appearances out of all the schools with 57. They also hold the title for the school with the most amount of wins for a school with 126 wins.

Top ten schools with the most NCAA Tournament wins.

After this year, Kentucky could make that number 127 but only time will tell.

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