Brent Musburger may deserve credit for making the phrase “March Madness” unequivocally synonymous with the NCAA Tournament, but the legendary broadcaster credits an unlikely source for coining 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 passing on the credit.
It was wonderful to talk #Marchmadness with the legend @brentmusburger today, and he told Suzy Shuster if he really came up with the legendary phrase:#NCAAtournament pic.twitter.com/AmlthWVBlv
— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) March 17, 2023
CBS outbid NBC and acquired television rights to the NCAA Tournament beginning in 1982. Musburger hosted the tournament for CBS, with Gary Bender serving as the primary play-by-play voice.
“I had a board where I physically named the teams,” Musburger told Shuster. “And it was late on a Thursday night after the opening games, we had a couple of big upsets that night late off the West Coast, and I said, guys, this is crazy, this is March Madness!”
“I didn’t just pull it out of thin air. But when I was a newspaperman and a broadcaster in Chicago, when I started, there was a car dealer who was always around the Illinois high school basketball tournament … and he referenced it in an ad that ran in our paper, The Chicago American like March Madness. And he wanted to print the games, but then of course he wanted the car sales during March. And that stuck with me when I went to the network.”
After Musburger helped popularize “March Madness” in the context of college basketball, the NCAA tried to protect it, but Illinois State pushed back.
“The lawyers came to me and asked me,” Musburger recalled. “I said, ‘Look, it was definitely 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’ll tell you and I’ll tell the judge that this belongs to the state of Illinois, not the NCAA.’ Well, a settlement was reached, 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 elevating the slogan to the college ranks. The NCAA legally trademarked the term “March Madness” in 2000.