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Elliott Stern

The Madness has already begun.

The NCAA’s annual men’s basketball tournament — “March Madness" — doesn’t officially begin until Thursday, March 21.

We’ll find out who’s headed to the “Big Dance” on Selection Sunday — Sunday, March 17.

But the real madness started last Sunday — the annual conference championship tournaments 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.

Beginning last weekend and running right up to next Sunday’s NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show (3 p.m. on CBS), 127 men’s conference tournament games will be on TV.

Now that’s madness.

Every week, I prepare the On Deck master — the 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 were 13 men’s college basketball games televised Sunday including the first five conference tournament games.

Then there were eight more conference tournament games on both Monday and Tuesday and 13 on Wednesday.

That’s just the warm-up for Thursday's real madness.

Thursday has wall-to-wall coverage of 33 games, all live and spread across eight television networks, beginning at 9 a.m. and running until about 10:30 p.m.

That, by the way, is way more than the Big Dance’s biggest days — the NCAA tournament’s first two days with 16 live games each day.

Thursday and Friday are similar 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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