“March Madness” is a term synonymous with college basketball, referring to the time of year the NCAA runs its unpredictable championship tournament. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments happen at the same time. But according to some, “March Madness” was a term the NCAA only used for the men’s tournament until recently.
In 2022, some people on social media celebrated the women’s tournament's new logo and official status as March Madness, suggesting that 2022 was the first year the NCAA used the March Madness brand for the women’s side.
Did the NCAA only begin calling the women’s college basketball tournament “March Madness” in 2022?
- OurFairShot, a college basketball gender equality advocacy campaign started by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association
- External review of NCAA’s gender equity issues by law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP
- Archives of NCAA Twitter accounts for the handles @MarchMadnessWBB, @MarchMadnessMBB, @MarchMadness and @NCAAWBB
Yes, the NCAA didn’t start calling the women’s college basketball tournament “March Madness” until 2022.
WHAT WE FOUND
The NCAA’s “March Madness” branding strictly referred to the men’s basketball tournament through the 2021 tournament. The organization expanded the brand’s use to the 2022 women’s tournament as part of an initiative to bring equity between the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
During the 2021 NCAA basketball tournaments, women’s basketball coaches were among the leading voices criticizing the NCAA for gender inequality in its basketball championships. The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association created a campaign that year called OurFairShot to publicize the NCAA’s favoritism toward the men’s tournament and pressure the NCAA to make changes.
Among its list of differences between the two tournaments, the OurFairShot website pointed out that the NCAA did not use the March Madness brand for the women’s tournament, including on social media.
That summer, the NCAA had the law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP conduct an external review of gender equity issues in the NCAA, particularly in NCAA championships. The first part of that review, focused entirely on the NCAA’s basketball championships, found that a difference in branding was one of many inequalities between the two tournaments.
Although the NCAA’s trademark on March Madness has never had any limitations on its use for women’s basketball, the review found that the branding was nowhere to be found in the women’s tournament. A formal NCAA document stated that March Madness was “inextricably connected with the NCAA’s Division I Men’s Basketball Championship,” the review said, and an online history of March Madness produced by the NCAA only included the history of the men’s tournament.
“To give one illustration, after the NCAA first introduced the March Madness logo, the women’s staff created several gifts for student-athletes containing the logo, including a laptop sleeve and a bracelet. They described being reprimanded for doing so and being told to stop using the logo,” the review said. “Again around 2018, a senior member of the women’s basketball staff asked members of the corporate relations team whether the March Madness mark could be used in connection with the women’s tournament and was told that the mark was ‘off limits’ to women’s basketball.”
In September 2021, the NCAA announced that it would use the March Madness branding for the next women’s basketball championship in 2022. The NCAA noted this was one of the recommendations offered by the external gender equity review.
The change in branding is apparent on the NCAA’s social media accounts. Today, there is a NCAA @MarchMadnessWBB account and a NCAA @MarchMadnessMBB account. But the history of both handles only goes back to 2022, according to the Wayback Machine’s archives.
Archives of the @MarchMadness account show that it existed until at least Jan. 2, 2022 and was renamed before Jan. 9, 2022. The account’s bio read, “The official NCAA March Madness destination for all things Division I NCAA Men's Basketball,” even up to that last archive on January 2.