The Maddening Rules of March

The Maddening Rules of March

There are reasons that, come NCAA Tournament time, you don't see or hear "March Madness", "Sweet Sixteen" or "Final Four" in some advertising.

Here it comes, college basketball fans, the month you have all been waiting for! With the madness, the dancing, the teams in the third round, fewer teams by half that, and even fewer teams near the end (Boy, that sounded awkward). Would it make more sense to say “March Madness”, “The Big Dance”, “Sweet Sixteen” “Elite Eight” and “Final Four”? Thought so. Well, here's the thing folks; we CANNOT use those words with out permission! They all have copyrights on them. So, please don’t ask PixNinja or any other marketing people to use them in advertising.

We can’t, and here is why

According to the term “March Madness” actually got started on the high school level and was used in print in Illinois before WWII. Then a few years before Danny and The Miracles (Shoot, maybe I can’t use that one either) along comes CBS’s Brent Musburger who used it on TV during his work covering NCAA basketball games. Well, the people back in Illinois didn’t take kindly to that, and filed for a trademark the year AFTER the ’88 Championship for a certain University in the Midwest. The battle of the name was ON. The NCAA argued that they had a common-law trademark on the name. Back and forth in court they went, until they agreed to a joint holding company. The Illinois High School Association controls the name for the secondary education level and the NCAA took their college level ball and went home.

Thanks a lot Musburger!

Something similar happened with “Sweet 16”. Here comes good ‘ole CBS and their commentators who started using the phrase after the tournament expanded from 53 teams to 64 (Now I think it’s around 90, but don’t quote me on that). Well, here come those pesky high school associations again. This time their torches and pitchforks were raised in Kentucky where the name was trademarked the same year Mr. Manning raised the trophy in Allen Fieldhouse. This time the secondary education folk negotiated rather than drag the sweetness through the courts to similar outcome as the Madness deal. So if you want to use the name “Sweet 16” and you are representing a team at the high school level, off to Kentucky to ask to permission you go.


It seems that there is no Litigation in regards to the “Big Dance” and “Elite Eight”, so no one is sure where these came from. But the NCAA owns those as well. Please don’t make me explain the KU rules to you. If I attempt to do so, I'm afraid that Alice from the marketing firm for KU Athletics will come down the hall here at The Standard Mutual Building in beautiful Downtown Lawrence and slap a cease and desist order on me. Rock Cha…darn.

Cheers -