The term “March madness” was first used to describe Iowa’s statewide high school basketball tournament. The tournament started in 1908 and grew from a tiny invitational affair to a statewide Thing with a capital T, encompassing over 900 schools.
As IHSA history has it, “A field of teams known as the “Sweet Sixteen” routinely drew sellout crowds to the University of Illinois’ Huff Gymnasium.”
A man named Henry V. Porter worked for the Iowa High School Association and was so impressed with all the hype that he wrote an article in the Illinois High School Athlete in March of 1939, titled “March Madness”.
It’s a fun read; Porter was quite creative:
A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.
The writer’s temperature is rising. The thing is catching. It’s got me!
Gimme that playing schedule!Henry V. Porter, March 1939
In 1982, sportscaster Brent Musburger used the term while covering the NCAA tournament.
The IHSA applied to trademark “March Madness”, and there were a series of legal battles and trademarks around the term, but the NCAA has it trademarked now.