How did this alliteration madness get started?
Slowly, like a four-corner offense.
In 1939, Henry Van Arsdale Porter was the editor of the Illinois High School Association’s in-house magazine. As the state championship basketball tournament began that year, Porter wrote an essay entitled March Madness. It’s an homage to the high school basketball fan that begins in an excited stage of rhetoric:
There are millions of him. He exists through summer and fall, shows signs of animation through the winter and lives to the utmost during March when a hundred thousand pairs of rubber soled shoes slap the hardwood in a whirlwind of stops and pivots and dashes on the trail to the state basketball championships.
And it climbs upward from there, to death-defying heights:
The thud of the ball on the floor, the slap of hands on leather, the swish of the net are music in his ears. He is a connoisseur in matters pertaining to team coordination and artistry in action. The shifting zone, the screen and the spot pass are an open book to him. ….His lack of inhibitions adds a spontaneity that colors the tournaments. Without darkness there would be no light. A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.
“Madness” was not yet capitalized, but it soon would be. The phrase caught on with sports reporters, and it became associated with Illinois high school basketball over four decades.
And then, in 1982, along comes CBS. Brent Musburger, who had become familiar with the phrase during his years as a sports anchor in Chicago, utters the words March Madness during CBS’s coverage of the NCAA tournament. He explained how it happened in a 2011 interview with Yahoo Sports:
I worked locally in Chicago, first as a writer for the Chicago Daily News and then as a broadcaster. First time I saw the term “March Madness,” it was print, in an ad for a car dealer. It was referring to the Illinois high school basketball tournament. When we got the rights to the NCAA tournament in 1982, it was something that seemed appropriate to say.
In the 1990s, the NCAA and the IHSA formed a joint holding company, the March Madness Athletic Association. Under this structure, the IHSA controls the name on the high-school level, and the NCAA has a perpetual license to use the phrase in connection with its collegiate tournament.
Sweet Sixteen is jointly owned by the NCAA and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. The NCAA owns Elite Eight and Final Four outright.
If you would like to own a piece of basketball alliteration, these might be available: double dribble, buzzer beater, bracket buster. Midnight Madness, however, will bring the NCAA down on you. And Wizard of Westwood might be problematical.