March Madness refers to the NCAA Division 1 basketball championships (Credit: NCAA/ Fair Use/

The NCAA Division I men's and women's basketball championships, held annually in March, are among the most widely viewed collegiate sporting events in the United States. The popular tournaments turn even casual basketball watchers into die-hard fans of teams with whom they have no affiliation. Here is everything you need to know about "March Madness."

"March Madness" history

The expression "March Madness" was first used by a coach to describe a state-wide high school basketball tournament in the 1930s. In the early 1980s, sports announcer Brent Musberger borrowed the phrase during a men's NCAA championship game, and the name stuck.

Until 2021, “March Madness” only referred to the men’s competition. In 2022, the NCAA finally expanded its use to the women's championships. It was part of the organization's initiative to bring equity between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

How are the teams selected?

The tournament starts with a total of 68 teams. The 32 winners of the Division 1 post-season basketball tournaments automatically qualify for the championships. An additional 36 teams are invited by a special NCAA selection committee. The 12 members consider each team's win-loss records and rankings. However, there is no set criteria on how they are picked.

The format

March Madness is a single-elimination tournament. This means that if any a team loses a game, they are out of the competition. The tournament's opening round is known as the First Four. It consists of two games between the four lowest-ranked automatic entries and two games between the four bottom-ranked teams selected by the committee. The outcomes of each determine the tournament's final four teams.

March Madness is watched by millions of Americans (Credit: Tum Gerland/ CC-BY-SA-2.0/ Flickr)

The 64 teams are then split into four regions of 16 teams each. The teams are then ranked 1 through 16. The first-round games pit the top teams in each region against the bottom teams. For example, the No. 1 seed plays the No. 16 seed; the No. 2 seed plays the No. 15 seed, and so on. Theoretically, this gives the higher-ranked teams the best chance to proceed to the next round. However, every year, there are numerous unexpected upsets.

When will March Madness begin in 2024?

The 68 teams for the men's and women's championships will be revealed on March 17, 2024. The men's "First Four" will be played on March 19 and March 20, 2024. The women's opening round will occur on March 20 and 24, 2024.

March Madness fan brackets

As soon as the tournament schedule is released, fans will try to guess the winners of each of the 63 games. Approximately 70 million tournament brackets are filled out each year. However, no one has been able to correctly predict the outcome of all the games yet. Gregg Nigl of Columbus, Ohio, has gotten the closest with 49 consecutive correct guesses in 2019.