March Madness

I’m willing to bet that most everyone, sports fan or not, knows what the term March Madness references….the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships, which has more recently come to include the Women’s Championships as well. And, in recent year, the term has been adopted by Division II and III schools, as well as NAIA institutions, referring to their own basketball championships played during the month of March.

Have you ever wondered where the term “March Madness” originated?  Often, monikers of that nature have clouded origins, with various theories on who first used the term, as well as the when and where. Take the 1970’s Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine.” Was it an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer by Bob Hertzel in 1969? Did he steal the term from a postgame quote by Pete Rose several years earlier? Did anyone really refer to the team with any consistency by that name prior to about 1974?

You’ll find that there are a number of colleges and universities that have somewhat mysterious histories for their nicknames.  Someone always has the “real” story, but there are always others who claim to have the truth.

With “March Madness,” it is not much different, although there isn’t much debate about its origins. It started in a 1939 article about the Illinois High School state basketball tournament, and by the 1970’s, the tournament was officially being called “March Madness.” In the early 1980’s, Brent Musburger, used the phrase to describe the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and as they say, the rest is history. Of course, that’s a history that includes a lawsuit between the Illinois High School Athletic Association and the NCAA over copyright and trademark infringement, but its history nonetheless. March Madness is a multi-billion dollar industry that is here to stay.

What does that have to do with King Athletics, and NCAA Division II? Certainly, we have our own version, and tonight our men’s basketball team will take the floor in the Conference Carolinas men’s basketball championship game against Limestone College, with the winner earning a berth into Division II’s version of the Big Dance. That is certainly a goal of every basketball team when they start practice in October, and I’ll be pulling hard for our young men tonight. They’ve worked hard all season and the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament will be a tremendous reward.

But, for basketball coaches, March is not the only month full of madness. For any coach at the college level, each month is full of its own kind of madness. Regardless of the sport, there is little downtime for a coach at the college level, it’s just a different type of madness.

During preseason, coaches are focused on strength, conditioning, learning plays, honing skills. The madness comes in the form of intense practice sessions, long meetings with the coaching staff, sleepless nights trying to determine the most effective way to utilize the talent you have. It involves a lot of planning; from making travel plans to and from games to formulating budgets and expenses. It’s also a time when many coaches focus on recruiting; yes, you’re already working towards next year.

Once the games start, the madness really begins. You still have practices, meetings, and yes, recruiting. But now you’re factoring in long bus rides and late nights, pulling in after midnight from a road trip, waking up to be back in the office the next day, and getting ready for the next game. In the midst of that, you carve out quality time for your family.

The season flies by, and before you know it you are staring at the postseason. This adds a new level to the madness, because there is uncertainty. The next opponent is not pre-determined, and often the site and/or date may be dependent upon other factors.

And then, there is the offseason. For most coaches, the offseason begins somewhere between three and 10 minutes after the last game. Win or lose, coaches immediately shift the focus to next year. One of the characteristics that make coaches and athletes successful is learning from the past, while not living in it. Regardless of how successful a season may be, every successful coach knows that as soon as the last buzzer sounds or the last out is made in a season, the next season begins.

What do we need to do in order to be better next year?  Where will our new freshmen fit into the program? Do we have needs we need to address through recruiting? Which players need to improve, and what areas of their game need to improve? What do I need to do better as a coach? These are just a few of the questions in a coach’s mind literally minutes after the last game. OK, maybe if you win it all, you wait until the next morning, but the Madness never stops.

March Madness is one of my favorite times of the year as a sports fan. But, March Madness is for the fans. It’s the one time of the year that perhaps, fans get a glimpse into the lives of college basketball players and coaches. The players and coaches may get caught in the hype to some extent; it would be hard not to, and it would be a shame to miss the excitement. But, at the end of the day, for the players and coaches, the Madness is continual. Regardless of the sport or the level, college sports results in a certain Madness for both student athletes and coaches.

And I’d argue that they love every maddening minute of it.