How March Madness Works

The Final Four

Kennedy Meeks Kennedy Meeks
It's a ritual for each player to cuts strand off the net after the winning game, starting with seniors and moving down by class. Here Kennedy Meeks of the North Carolina Tar Heels does the honors after his team wins the championship in 2017. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Many sports use a tournament format to decide their champion, including professional sports. The Final Four of college basketball refers to the semifinal round of the Division I Men's or Women's Basketball Tournament. In this round, there are four teams left, and two games are played to determine which two teams will head to the finals.

The words "Final Four" relate only to college basketball. In fact, if you watch college basketball you will frequently hear the term, especially from CBS, which uses the phrase "Road to the Final Four" in its coverage. CBS has been the major TV partner for the NCAA since 1982, but Turner Sports has had a joint contract as well since 2010.

Making it to the Final Four means that a team won its first four tournament games, and it only has to win two more to be the national champions. A team that reaches this point in the tournament is already envisioning the hanging of a national championship banner from the rafters of its home arena, which is a common tradition.

As mentioned before, the Final Four games are played in April, but they are still full of the March Madness syndrome. Typically, the men's semifinal games are played on the first Saturday in April, and the women's are played on the first Sunday. The winners of those games move on to face each other in their respective championship games, which are played on the subsequent Monday.

In 2018, the NCAA announced that it had made $1 billion in revenue for the first time in history [source: Daniels]. Most of this came from TV contracts. The profits go to the participating schools or to the conferences via a formula that gives shares based on team performance, scholarships given out and other factors. Starting in 2019, school academic success will also be part of the mix.

For more information on March Madness, college basketball and related topics, check out the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Dalgleish, McKenzie. "The Longest NCAA Tournament Droughts." The Score. March 2, 2017 (March 7, 2018).
  • Hack, Jordan. "Brent Musburger Explains History of 'March Madness' Name." Sporting News. March 15, 2016. (March 7, 2018).
  • Illinois High School Association, "March Madness History." (March 7, 2018)
  • NCAA. "Men's Basketball." (March 7, 2018).
  • NCAA. "What is the NCAA?" (March 7, 2018).
  • Lopresti, Mike. "These 29 things have never happened during March Madness.", March 5, 2018 (March 7, 2018).
  • Norlander, Matt. " Ranking top 10 Final Four Cinderellas and where South Carolina fits." March 29, 2017. (March 7, 2018).
  • Pells, Eddie. "March Madness: Office bracket spending at $2B." Associated Press. March 13, 2017 (March 7, 2018).
  • "What is the RPI?"