What is March Madness and Should You Be Worried?

Apr 22, 2023

College students (youths and young adults) all gathered around a tv watching the athletic contest during March Madness

What is March Madness and Should You Be Worried?

For college basketball fanatics, March Madness is among the most exciting times of the year. The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament is a single-elimination tournament of 68 teams that compete across four divisions in seven rounds. The ongoing rounds have become known in popular culture due to their memorable names: the round of the Sweet Sixteen leads to the Elite Eight that leads to the penultimate round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament: the Final Four. The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament has been played since 1939. 

Though betting on March Madness has no doubt occurred illegally throughout its history, with legal sports betting spreading throughout the US the dollar amounts wagered are larger than ever before. The American Gaming Association states that the US will wager almost $16 billion on March Madness in 2023. 

But what does that mean for college students, NCAA athletes, their friends and family, and other at risk for problem gambling through sports betting populations? With two-thirds of college students betting on sports, parents, professors, university administrators, and educator in general need to be aware of the risks that can occur during March Madness. (Source

History of March Madness and Gambling during March Madness

The first NCAA Division I Men's Basketball tournament was played in 1939. When March Madness started, it only had eight teams. In the final round of that original tournament, Oregon was the first NCAA March Madness champion, beating Ohio State for the championship trophy. It was not until 1951 that the bracket grew bigger, with the field growing to 16 teams then, and doubling again in 1975 to 32 teams. The bracket as we know it with its current size of 64 teams (not including the four extra teams with play in games) started in 1985 for the first time. The first play in games with the opening round games was included in 2001 and is often called "the First Four," a fun distinction against "the Final Four." Though the term "March Madness" was actually initially used in 1939 in reference to basketball by a high school referred called Henry V. Porter who was based in Illinois, the official association between "March Madness" and the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball tournament was first defined in 1982 when American sports commentator Brent Musberger used it in his media coverage.

March Madness has historically been known for significant betting. Even when outcomes seem predictable, wagering on college basketball can be quite chaotic. The most common form of sports betting that occurs through March Madness is filling out a 64 team bracket. However, that can yield quite a number of combinations and possibilities to wager incorrectly. Due to the size of the field and the included teams, there are 9.2 quintillion possible brackets. As of 2023, there has never been a known (and officially confirmed) 100% correct bracket. The longest streak of picks that could actually be verified correct was 49 and occurred in Ohio in 2019. However that lack of 100% correctness does not stop people trying and according to the AGA (American Gaming Association), 56 million people filled out brackets in 2023.

Sports Betting Statistics & What You Can Do

Gambling in college is a significant issue. Below are some statistics about college gambling as well as two tips to avoid problem gambling behavior in college and during March madness:

  • Only 22% of of US colleges and universities have a formal policy on student gambling

  • 75% of college students have gambled during the past year (whether legally or illegally)

  • 6% of US college students have a serious gambling problem

  • The most common gambling activities for college students are the lottery (41%), card games (38%) and sports betting (23%)

  • Nearly 30% of male athletes bet on sports, and 66% of those athletes began in highschool (Source)

If you are a college student, parent, or educator, here are two simple tips and tricks to better understanding problem gambling behavior during March Madness and the games of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament:

  • Delete sports betting apps: make sure that those susceptible to problem gambling behavior in your life have in fact deleted sports betting apps from their phones and computers. Mobile websites and apps disproportionately focus on youth and young adult targeting. Deleting sports betting apps is a significant action that can help reduce problem gambling behavior

  • Walk away from the game: given the sports betting and gambling stimulation during every minute of a match from pre-game commercials to post-game wrap up, youth and young adults often feel the need to stay “glued to the tv.” Simply standing up, turning away from the tv or phone, or leaving the room can provide much needed calm and help reduce exposure to problem gambling triggers and sports betting behaviors 

Students, parents, and educators can also leverage Birches Health's free, confidential problem gambling quiz to better understand Sports Betting behaviors and risk of exposure.

How Birches Health Supports College Students, Parents, Coaches, Educators, and University Personnel to Avoid, Prevent, and Treat Problem Gambling (also known as Gambling Addiction, Gambling Disorder, or Compulsive Gambling)

Sports Betting and Gambling Addiction can ruin lives and quickly have disastrous consequences. It can destroy family and friend relationships as well as cause individuals to go into debt and worse. Birches Health connects gambling addicts and those who just want to gamble a little less to licensed, expert, gambling specialists for personalized treatment plans and custom high quality care. We ensure high quality clinical outcomes by only using board certified clinicians.

Click here to have a free, confidential conversation with our team about potential next steps to get the care you need.

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