The story of how the NCAA obtained the “March Madness” trademark spans more than half a century. Back in the early 1940s, the Illinois State High School Association coined the phrase “March Madness” for its state-wide basketball tournament. This association used the phrase undisturbed for nearly 40 years, until 1982, when Brent Musburger started using the phrase on national CBS broadcasts to describe the college basketball tournament.
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, the NCAA started adopting “March Madness” in big fashion. The association even started licensing it to people like video game makers. Finally, by the mid-1990s, the Illinois State High School Association had had enough, and litigation started to ensue for the name. Ultimately, the litigation for the March Madness name was resolved with a settlement agreement.
Brent Musburger is on record as saying he told the NCAA that he took the phrase after hearing it used in Chicago. So, as part of this settlement, a joint venture of sorts, a new company called the March Madness Athletic Association, LLC was formed. This LLC was responsible for owning the March Madness trademark, licensing it to the NCAA and the Illinois High School Association, and policing the trademark. This arrangement lasted nearly 20 years.
Then, in 2012, this LLC assigned the NCAA full rights and ownership to the March Madness trademark. It is unclear what happened in 2012 to cause the Illinois High School Association to agree to have the NCAA take full ownership of the March Madness trademark, but, now, the NCAA does.