Why is March Madness called the Big Dance?

If you’re watching March Madness, you’ve no doubt heard the NCAA tournament called ‘the Big Dance.’ But why?

The Big Dance is a commonly used synonym for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, even more commonly known as March Madness. The Big Dance comes from Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire, who explained to a reporter in 1977 that “you gotta wear the blue blazer when you go to the big dance.” Marquette won the championship that year, so everyone started calling the tournament “the Big Dance.”

This is, arguably, one of the dumbest origin stories of any commonly used and widely marketed synonym. McGuire wore a bright blue blazer through Marquette’s winning season and committed to wearing it through his team’s tournament run. This is commendable. One can always appreciate and should always honor superstitious behavior, the more ridiculous, the better. However, why did McGuire call the tournament The Big Dance? And why did The Big Dance, specifically, stick? Why not Bright Blue Blazer Time?

Yes, there is admittedly a nice synergy between The Big Dance and another noted tourney term, Cinderella. Cinderellas looking for their One Shining Moment at the Big Dance makes a certain kind of sense, but of course, none of these three terms are particularly related to each other or causal in any way. They’re just conveniently coherent as an extended analogy.

Congratulations to the 1977 Marquette men’s basketball team and their coach Al McGuire. Shout out to his bright blue blazer. But one has to imagine that championship winning coaches have said more interesting iconic things we could have chosen to name a whole tournament after.

The 2018 NCAA Tournament — March Madness, or The Big Dance, if you prefer — begins Thursday, March 15 with the Round of 64. It continues through the weekend and picks up again the following Thursday with the Sweet Sixteen. The Final Four games will take place Saturday, March 31 and the NCAA Championship Game will be held Monday, April 2.