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Las Vegas’ ownership of March Madness has officially begun

Updated March 7, 2023 - 6:56 pm

The term “March Madness” has been around since long before the western region of the college basketball world started converging on Las Vegas around this time each year.

In fact, it originally had nothing to do with the collegiate game.

Henry Porter, an official with the governing body overseeing high school hoops in Illinois, first coined the phrase in an essay about the state tournament in 1939.

Broadcaster and part-time Las Vegan Brent Musburger popularized the saying during NCAA Tournament broadcasts on CBS in the early 1980s, and there have been legal battles over the copyright of the phrase over the years.

That’s a roundabout way of getting to the reality that the debate is over. Las Vegas can stake its claim as the owner of March Madness from this day forward.

It’s about to be a wild month, and it could be only the beginning.

Games all over the place

The usual slate of conference tournaments is underway with the West Coast Conference playing down to what could potentially be a rubber match between nationally ranked powers Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s at Orleans Arena on Tuesday.

The Mountain West at the Thomas & Mack Center has several teams looking to secure their spots in the NCAA Tournament on the men’s side and a bunch of teams hoping to dethrone the juggernaut Lady Rebels on the women’s side.

T-Mobile Arena is home to the Pac-12 men’s tournament, while the women’s tournament has featured a ton of upsets in playing down to Sunday’s final between fifth-seeded UCLA and seventh-seeded Washington State.


And that’s before we start discussing the always-unpredictable Western Athletic Conference tournament at Orleans Arena and the Big West event at Henderson’s Dollar Loan Center.

The conference tournament takeover of the valley started long ago, but this year marks a significant step forward for the city.

Not only will the NIT semifinals move from their traditional home of Madison Square Garden to Orleans Arena this month, but the NCAA Tournament makes its Las Vegas debut with a regional set to take place at T-Mobile Arena.

“It’s been really unbelievable,” said Marc Ratner, perhaps the most prominent athletic regulatory official the state has ever seen. “It’s the mecca of basketball right now, and it’s been so exciting to watch. I’m thrilled and honored to be involved with it.”

Big Dance coming

Ratner is the former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission and current vice president of regulatory affairs for the UFC, and he has also overseen high school officials in southern Nevada and officiated collegiate games on the field and at the scorer’s table. He is often seen moonlighting as a clock operator at college basketball games around Las Vegas.

Ratner has already worked several WCC games and expects to do about 15 games this week.

He said the arrival of the NCAA Tournament is the icing on the cake for the city.

“We’ve had all these tournaments that lead into it, and they wouldn’t give us the big one because of gambling,” he said. “Now we are the basketball capital in so many ways.”

Buckle in for what promises to be a wild week. Mad, even. And it’s all just a prelude to the Final Four finally coming to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas five years from now.

As Porter wrote in that 1939 essay, this could be good for all of us. College basketball might not be as pure as it was once believed to be, but there is nothing better than postseason, winner-take-all college basketball games where anything can happen and usually does.

Perhaps nothing in sports is a better respite from the real world than a March buzzer-beater.

“A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel,” he so keenly observed.

Let the games begin.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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