What do you really know about “March Madness”?
For me and for Collegiate Sports this is the most interesting time of the year. Like so many fans, I am glued to the TV Set until each night when I get ready for bed, I can hardly recognize the old man with the blood shot eyes and tired expression staring back at me from the mirror.
In fact, I wondered how I once played for a Division 1 basketball team. Hell, they would take one look at me today, grab the scruff of my neck and throw me back into the pack.
The kids today are bigger, stronger, faster and most athletic. When I played our tallest man was 6’4” and he was our center. Guys like me either hovered around 6’1, or were as small as 5’10”. This was the norm. In fact, the first 7 footer I remember was Bob Kurland who played for Oklahoma A & M (The Aggies) in 1945-46… Today, the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ He then played AAU Ball for the Phillips Oilers.
Today, it is not unusual to see a guy almost 7’ dribble the length of the floor or set up plays in the backcourt. A feat, which was once thought impossible since all who coached, believed big men were too clumsy and not that well coordinated. How times have changed!
… And they certainly have. Just as heights and size of the players have grown exponentially, so have the number of competing teams. The tournament was actually first played in 1939 and until 1950 it only admitted 8 teams. In fact, the NIT (National Invitation Tournament) played every year at Madison Square was considered most important. The NIT was the most glamorous and preceded the NCAA Tournament by one year. Only 8 teams were invited. In 1950, the NCAA purchased the NIT making it a secondary tournament in prestige.
Ironically, it was also in 1950, City College of New York (CCNY) became the only team in history to win both the NIT and the NCAA. Unfortunately, CCNY was involved that year in Basketball’s most devastating scandal. They won all games handily. So good were they, even while winning, they shaved points favoring the gamblers who had bribed them.
So hurt, was the great coach Nat Holman who couldn’t believe that his team had done this, he swore never to coach again. He kept his word.
Ironically, the man who would forever change the importance of the NCAA tournament was only 3 years old when the NCCA event was founded. My friend Eddie Einhorn who in 1958 produced the first National syndicated radio broadcast of the NCAA Tournament. He envisioned where it might grow and in 1960, he founded the TVS Television Network to telecast college basketball games to Regional networks.
No major Network wanted the Tournament. He secured all the rights and in turn, years later sold to CBS Sports which he eventually would head.
My how it has grown! In 1950, there were only 8 teams. In ’51, the size was doubled. Along the way, the number of competitors kept growing. By 2010, it had reached 65 teams. After that tournament, flushed with success, the NCAA gave serious thought to expanding to 128 teams.
CBS/Turner agreed to a new Television contract in 2010 only if the expansion was no more than 68 teams. This number will once again prove to be filled with excitement and surprise. Holly Cross’ victory in 1947 saw the last seed emerge as the Champion.
“March Madness” will give us many unbelievable moments. It’s all in how the Ball Bounces.
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