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Elliott Stern

Let the Madness begin.

Actually it’s already underway.

While the NCAA’s annual men’s basketball tournament — “March Madness” — doesn’t officially begin until Thursday, March 21, the real madness has already started – the annual conference tournament championships that are the run-up to Selection Sunday.

The big dogs — Duke, Gonzaga, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and the like — are already assured of getting invited to the “Big Dance.”

For the little guys, like my beloved Temple University Owls, many won’t be invited unless they can score a conference tournament title.

Those tournaments are well underway.

From now until the NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show (3 p.m. on CBS), 114 men’s conference tournament games will be on TV.

Now that’s madness.

Every week, I prepare the On Deck master. It’s a master document that lists all the local sports plus radio and TV schedules that we then cut and paste into the On Deck column in the Santa Maria Times and Lompoc Record.

So I know ahead of everyone just what’s coming up — and it’s a lot, a whole lot.

There are eight TV games on Tuesday and 13 more on Wednesday.

That’s just the warm-up for Thursday’s real madness with wall-to-wall coverage of 33 TV games — more than double the number of televised opening round NCAA Tournament games (16 each day for the first two days) — spread across eight television networks beginning at 9 a.m. and running until about 10:30 p.m.

Thursday and Friday are just about the same with 29 games on Friday and another 25 on Saturday.

The final six, all conference championship games, will be Sunday’s run-up to the selection show.

Then everyone can fill out their brackets and dream of hitting all the winners when the NCAA Tournament tips off.

You can even enter the Times’ tournament challenge. We’ll have more on that as we get closer to tournament time.

So when did the Madness begin?

The NCAA began its national men’s basketball championship tournament way back in 1939 — and, yes, that was even before I was born.

That’s also the year the name March Madness came to life — but it didn’t start with the NCAA.

It actually began with the Illinois state high school championship tournament.

Every school in the state was invited to play for the title in one gigantic bracket — and that was madness.

And Henry V. Porter, the Assistant Executive Secretary of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) wrote an essay about his state’s annual high school basketball championship tournament.

He called it March Madness — the first time anyone used the phrase.

In 1973, the IHSA made it official, re-naming their high school state championship tournament March Madness.

In the late 1980s, CBS began using March Madness for the NCAA tournament so the IHSA trademarked the phrase and then, as you might expect, the NCAA sued the IHSA over who really had the right to use the name.

The two sides eventually came to an agreement that the IHSA would hold the rights to the phrase on the high school level and the NCAA on the college level and if you’d like to use the phrase, then you’d have to sign a licensing agreement with one of those organizations.

As for the “Big Dance” and “Final Four,” you can thank the late Marquette coach Al McGuire for both.

In a 1975 new story, McGuire called the finals weekend the Final Four.

Later in a 1977 interview, McGuire said “You gotta wear the blue blazer when you go to the Big Dance.

Both names stuck and the NCAA has been using them ever since.

I’m sure you’re doing your homework and will be ready to fill out your brackets next Sunday night.

Good luck with your March Madness selections.

Now let’s get ready for the Big Dance.

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