Although the NCAA
tournament now determines the national champion, that was not always
the case. Until the 1950's, the NIT was considered a more
prestigious tournament than the NCAA, and teams often chose to enter
the NIT and bypass the NCAA tourney. Because of this dichotomy, two
of the best centers of the 1940's never met in an NCAA tourney.
George Mikan's DePaul team traditionally entered the NIT, while Bob
Kurland's Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) won two NCAA titles.
Several schools entered both tournaments. One such team, City
College of New York (CCNY) led by Irwin Dambrot, won both in 1950.
Ironically, CCNY defeated Bradley University in the finals of both
tournaments. Another school, Utah in 1944, entered the NIT, lost in
the first round, and then went on to win the NCAA title. Kentucky
pulled off a similar accomplishment in 1949, losing in the second
round of the NIT and then going on to win the NCAA Tournament.
In 1941, the East region added a third-place game into the schedule, and
in 1946, a national third-place game was held for the first time; the
game would be a fixture until 1980. In 1951, the tournament expanded to
16 teams, and in 1952, Seattle was the site of the first true "Final
Four," with both semifinal games and the championship game in one city.
It was 1956 when the tournament was divided into four regions. Some of
the most astounding and telling events in college basketball were to
follow: North Carolina defeated Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas 54-53 in
three overtimes to win the title in 1957. The legend of dominance
emerged in 1962 when John Wooden's UCLA team makes the first of 13 Final
Four appearances over the next 15 seasons.
Reflecting the race and civil rights issues of the time, Loyola
(Illinois) was matched up with Mississippi State in a 1963 menís
basketball tournament regional semifinal. Mississippi State, an
all-white team, fled the town in the middle of the night despite
protests from the governor and state police of Mississippi to play a
Loyola team that features four black starters. Mississippi State
overcame an unwritten Mississippi rule against playing integrated teams
with a cloak-and-dagger flight to the North just one step ahead of a
court injunction. Triumphantly, Loyola beat Mississippi State and went
on to win the title. In 1966, Texas Western (now UTEP), with an
all-black starting five, defeats an all-white Kentucky team to win the
In 1973, with the championship game held on Monday night for the first
time, UCLA behind Bill Walton's 44 points on 21 of 22 shooting, won its
seventh straight championship, defeating Memphis State. NC State, led by
David Thompson, ends UCLA's title run in 1974, defeating the Bruins in
the national semifinals in double overtime.
The following year, the NCAA tournament expanded to 32 teams, and then
allowed more than one school from each conference to participate. Prior
to this ruling, the restriction prevented several great teams from
competing in the tournament, including the 1974 Maryland team. They
finished the season nationally ranked #4, yet lost the ACC Conference
final game to top-ranked NC State prior to the start of the tournament.
After that, the NCAA began to allow more than one team per conference to
participate. In 1976, Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosier squad completed an
undefeated season with a victory over Michigan in the championship
game. The Hoosiers are the last team to go undefeated and win the
The tournament expanded to 40 teams in 1979, and teams were seeded for
the first time. "Magic" Earvin Johnson leads Michigan State over Larry
Bird and Indiana State to win the national championship. The game drew
the attention of millions throughout the country; its 24.1 TV rating
remains the highest ever for a college basketball game and is still
considered one of the greatest match-ups in NCAA Tournament history.
Expansion followed in 1980 to 48 teams, and then in 1983, to 53 teams.
In what many believe is the greatest Cinderella story in college
basketball, North Carolina Stateís Lorenzo Charles dunks the ball as
time expires in the 1983 championship game to lead the Wolfpack to a
54-52 win over heavily favored Akeem Olajuwon and Houston. Perhaps no
one figure in college basketball history more personified the spirit of
March Madness than Coach Jim Valvano.
His underdog North Carolina State Wolfpack did what many consider a
miracle by making an incredible run through the 1983 Tournament.
Culminating in the defeat of the highly touted "Phi Slamma Jamma" squad
from the University of Houston, Valvano was rocketed into the media
limelight and quickly became the symbol of exuberance and enthusiasm. He
discovered soon afterward that he had bone cancer, and for a short time
became a commentator for college basketball. Before his death at age 47,
he was named the recipient of the Arthur Ashe award for courage at the
first ESPN ESPY awards. It was at this time he announced the formation
of the V Foundation for cancer research.
In 1985 the tournament expanded to 64 teams. A Villanova Wildcat team
shot a 22 for 28 field goal percentage to defeat Patrick Ewing and
defending champion Georgetown in the championship game. Villanova
remains the lowest seed (#8) to win the championship. In 1991, Duke
upset undefeated UNLV in the semifinals and went on to win the national
championship. In 1997, Arizona, led by Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and
Miles Simon, becomes the first school to defeat three #1 seeds en route
to the national championship, winning against Kansas, North Carolina and
The NCAA Tournamentís popularity has grown to rival that of the World
Series, the Olympics and the Super Bowl. CBS Sports in 1999 negotiated
an 11-year, $6 billion agreement for television, radio, Internet,
corporate marketing, licensing, publishing, home video and Hoop City
rights for the Division I menís basketball championship.
In 2002, the NCAA tournament committee developed a "pod" system for the
first and second rounds. The system allows the top four seeds to play
at a site as close to home as possible, without regard to the school's
tournament region. In that yearís tournament, Maryland became the first
school to defeat five former national champions on their way to win
their first title. In 2004, the regions became known by the regional
finalís host city instead of by their geographic names. The Final Four
match-ups were set by committee prior to the tournament instead of on a
rotating basis. Connecticut, behind center Emeka Okafor, won its second
title in six seasons. Last year, 2005, Roy Williamís North Carolina Tar
Heels led by Sean May, held off the Fighting Illini to win the title
game by a final score of 75-70.
Adversity, tragedy, and ultimate triumph; the downtrodden and
beleaguered emerge through the journey as champions. The drama of hope
intensified to euphoria, only to be dashed on the rocks of defeat in the
ultimate test of poise and determination. The human experience in all
its excellence and all its failures. Yes, this Tournament has it all.