NCAA Introduces the ‘First Four’ at March Madness Tournament

AP Photo
The Associated Press

Five years ago when the NCAA expanded the March Madness playoff tournament to include 68 games, confusion developed over naming the rounds of the tournament.

Prior to 2011 the Thursday and Friday games were referred to as the first and second rounds. So if a team was playing in the second round that meant they won their first contest and moved forward to the next round. With the subsequent addition of four teams to play on Tuesday and Wednesday those games, known as the opening round, changed the designation of the next two rounds.

Consequently, the Thursday games became known as the second round and the Friday games as the third round. Some—not this writer—found this confusing because calling Thursday’s round a second round implies that a team must have won in the first round to get there. In fact only two of the teams—the winners of the Tuesday and Wednesday games—won games in the playoffs to achieve second round status.

The NCAA devised a solution starting in March 2016 that the first four teams playing on Tuesday and Wednesday will now be called the First Four.

“The Thursday-Friday games will be known as first and second rounds, so there’s no more, quote-unquote, third round,” a representative for the NCAA David Worlock explained. “So Thursday and Friday is the round of 64, Saturday and Sunday is the round of 32, and then obviously the Sweet 16 and Final Four hasn’t been changed.”

All of this sounds a bit like a Marx Brothers skit and begs the question: Why didn’t they just initially call them Wild Card games like they do in MLB and the NFL. Then they would never have had this problem in the first place.

ESPN reports that the NCAA tournament selection show airs March 13, the First Four starts March 15-16. NRG Stadium hosts the Final Four in Houston on April 2 and April 4.