Which is the Best All Time March Madness Conference?

Which College Conference is the best all time March Madness conference?

How do the college basketball conferences compare? SEC vs. Big Ten; SEC vs. Big East; SEC vs. ACC; SEC vs. PAC 10; and, SEC vs. Big-12?

Before I answer those questions, here's a bit of March Madness history.

Brent Musburger is considered the person who first coined the phrase March Madness when referring to the NCAA college basketball championship tournament.

Obviously "March" comes from the fact that the season-ending tournament begins in March each year. The "Madness" aspect of it comes from the fact that the best (generally) 65 college basketball teams square off in a single-elimination tournament over the space of 3 weekends.

The tournament is also sometimes referred to as "The Big Dance." Especially on the tournament's first weekend, it is common to have four different games being played at the same time - in three different time zones. The television network lucky enough to have the TV rights will jump from game to game - adding to the excitement.

Most college basketball fans loved when ESPN covered the first round as they would often show four games at once on a 4-way split TV screen. However, recently CBS has usually won the March Madness contract and has not offered such lively coverage.

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Thanks to ukathletics.com for photos 1, 3 and 4 above. All rights are reserved for these photos. Thanks to utsports.com for photo 2 above.

March Madness begins on "Selection Sunday" when 65 college basketball teams are selected for the tournament and seeded from 1 to 16 in four separate regions. [The 64th and 65th seeded teams play a "play-in" game to determine which of the two gets to play in the first round.]

The first weekend of the tournament consists of two rounds of games which bring the field down to 16 teams that advance to the "Sweet 16".

The second Sweet 16 weekend consists of two more rounds of game that reduce the field to the "Final Four".

On the final weekend, the Final Four teams square off, producing two winners who then play each other for the NCAA Division I College Basketball Championship.

The first Men's NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament was held in 1939. Since then, it has expanded several times, from 8 teams, in the first tournament, to 65 today.

In determining which is the best all-time March Madness conference, we obviously first look at which college basketball conference has had the most teams selected, all-time, for the tournament.



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The answer: THE BIG EAST.

Of course, the Big East has 16 teams in its basketball conference. This compares with the other major college basketball conferences which all have between ten and twelve teams.

Still, even if you divide the number of conference teams by the number of bids, the Big East still comes out on top with an average of 20.88 all time bids per team.

This compares to the # 2 conference (ACC) which averages 17.08 all time NCAA tournament bids per team. The Big Ten, with only 11 schools, averages 17.55 bids per team.

So, here is the ranking, by conference, of the number of all-time March Madness bids:

  1. Big East (334) Louisville leads with 32; Syracuse -- 31
  2. ACC (205) North Carolina leads with 38; Duke -- 30
  3. Big-12 (201) Kansas leads with 35
  4. Big Ten (193) Indiana leads with 33. Northwestern is the only team in any of the major basketball conferences to have NEVER been invited to the Big Dance. Northwestern had a good basketball program in the 1930's -- before March Madness started. They've had no basketball glory since.
  5. SEC (187) The Kentucky Wildcats lead the nation with 48
  6. Pac 10 (158) UCLA leads with 40

The second step in determining which is the best all time March Madness conference is to consider which conference has had the most teams, all time, make it to the Final Four?

The answer:

  1. ACC (41) North Carolina leads with 16 (tied with UCLA for # 1 in the nation); Duke - 14
  2. Big Ten (41) Ohio State leads with 10; Indiana - 8
  3. Big East (41) Louisville leads with 8
  4. Big-12 (34) Kansas leads with 12
  5. Pac 10 (32) UCLA leads with 17
  6. SEC (29) Kentucky leads with 13

Notice the 3-way tie for first place between the ACC, Big Ten and Big East.

The final step in determining which is the best all time March Madness conference is to find out which conference has had the most teams, all-time, win the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

The answer:

  1. Pac 10 (15) UCLA leads the nation with 11
  2. ACC (10) UNC leads with 4; Duke has 3
  3. Big East (10)
  4. Big Ten (10) Indiana leads with 5
  5. SEC (10) Kentucky leads with 7
  6. Big-12 (4)

So, which is the best all time March Madness conference?

Clearly, it's a matter of opinion. But, the Big East leads in the number of all-time bids and is tied for the number of teams in the all-time Final Four. They are in the middle of the pack for all-time championships. But, they have more teams who have done it (7) than anyone else. Some of the other conferences have been historically led by one or two teams. The Big East has historically had greater depth at the top of their conference - as far as performance in March Madness.

So, I say the Big East is the best all time March Madness conference. But, certainly the ACC has a strong argument that it is the best all timeMarch Madness conference.

[UPDATE: Just wanted to point out that thanks to Graham Hallman's help (see his comment linked below) I corrected the Big Ten's number of championships (10). That moves them up a bit. With that change, you can make a strong argument for the Big Ten as well.

The statistics provided on this page were compiled largely from information published by the NCAA at www.ncaa.org/stats/m-basketball and by Wikipedia at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCAA_Men's_Division_I_Basketball_Championship. They do not include the 2008-2010 seasons. However, the big picture hasn't changed much.

Finally, we have received questions about which teams we counted for which time periods. Obviously, over the years teams have switched conferences. So, the question is, which conference should that team's record count for? We decided that, for our purposes, we would base the statistics on teams currently in the conference. So, even though Louisville (for instance) only recently joined the Big East, the Big East gets credit for all of Louisville's basketball history.

Best All Time March Madness Conference?
Best All Time March Madness Conference?
Best All Time March Madness Conference?
Best All Time March Madness Conference?

Update Click here to find out why the SEC is now the Best College Basketball Conference.

Click here to find out which conference has the best all time NCAA basketball conference record.

Click here to find out which SEC school is the top SEC basketball fan attendance school.

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