Brent Musburger might deserve recognition for making the phrase “March Madness” unequivocally synonymous with the NCAA Tournament, but the legendary broadcaster credits an unlikely source for creating the saying.
On the heels of the NCAA Tournament tipping off this week, Musburger joined The Rich Eisen Show Friday afternoon to talk March Madness. And during the interview, Eisen’s wife and guest host Suzy Shuster asked Musburger to explain how he came up with the phrase “March Madness,” not realizing he was going to forward the credit.
— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) March 17, 2023
CBS outbid NBC and acquired TV rights to the NCAA Tournament starting in 1982. Musburger hosted the tournament for CBS, while Gary Bender served as the lead play-by-play voice.
“I had a board where I physically put names of the teams up,” Musburger told Shuster. “And it was late one Thursday evening after the opening games, we had a couple of big upsets that night late out of the West Coast and I said, ‘folks, this is madness, this is March Madness!’
“I didn’t just pull it out of thin air. But when I was a newspaper man and a broadcaster back in Chicago, back when I started, there was a car dealer who was always close to the state high school basketball tournament in the state of Illinois…and he referred to it in an ad that ran in our paper, The Chicago American as March Madness. And he would print the games, but then of course underneath he would have his car sales for March. And that stuck with me when I went to the network.”
After Musburger helped popularize “March Madness” in conjunction with college basketball, the NCAA attempted to copyright it, but the state of Illinois pushed back.
“The attorneys came to me and asked me,” Musburger recalled. “I said, ‘listen, that definitely was started by the state of Illinois and their downstate high school basketball tournament. It had nothing to do with college. And if I’m called to testify, I will tell you and I will tell the judge that this belongs to the state of Illinois, not the NCAA.’ Well, a settlement was made, the NCAA didn’t argue with what I told them, they paid the state of Illinois…and now they have the copyright to March Madness.”
An Illinois car dealership’s marketing campaign helped popularize “March Madness,” but the phrase has actually been traced back to Henry V. Porter. While working for the Illinois High School Athletic Association in 1939, Porter wrote an essay about the state’s high school basketball tournament titled “March Madness” and later wrote a poem, “Basketball Ides of March.” But Musburger definitely deserves credit for upping the catchphrase to the college ranks. The NCAA legally trademarked the phrase “March Madness” in 2000.