A Brief History of Men's College Basketball

From barns, peach baskets and sepia-tinged photos to 70,000-seat stadiums, plexiglass backboards and high-definition online streams, basketball has evolved apace over nearly 127 years. The men’s college game has long been near the epicenter of that growth, highlighted by rule changes that have made the sport what we recognize today and apparel and television contracts that have reshaped how we consume the game.

December 1891

Left: Naismith’s original rules of basketball were sold at auction for $4.3 million in 2010. Jamie Squire / Getty Images. Right: James Naismith.

James Naismith, a physical education teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts, creates the game as a means to keep his students in shape during the winter. He publishes the sport’s initial 13 rules, and it soon takes root in the Northeast.

February 1895

Hamline and the Minnesota State School of Agriculture square off in the first known college basketball game.

January 1896

Iowa and Chicago play the first college game featuring five players per side. (Naismith’s original iteration called for each team to field nine players at a time.)


Basketball is included as a demonstration sport at the Summer Olympics in St. Louis. The tournament at the games is the first consisting entirely of college teams; Hiram claims the gold medal, defeating Latter Day Saints University.

March 1922

Six schools participate in the National Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis, the first postseason tournament for college teams. Wabash earns the title, beating Kalamazoo 43-23.


The midcourt line and 10-second rule are introduced to reduce stalling.


The jump ball after every made basket is eliminated, enhancing the pace of play.

March 1938

Temple triumphs in the inaugural National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York.

March 1939

Left: Ohio State’s John Schick scores during the first NCAA basketball championship game, held in Evanston, Illinois. AP / Wide World. Right: Oregon claimed the first NCAA championship trophy in 1939. Tom Pennington / Getty Images

Only a year after the fanfare generated by the NIT, the NCAA holds its maiden championship tournament. Oregon won the eight-team event, defeating Ohio State in the final to claim the first NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.


New rules evolve the game. Defensive goaltending is banned, five fouls disqualify a player, and unlimited substitutions are allowed.


The City College of New York becomes the first team to win both the NIT and NCAA titles in the same year. After the feat, the NCAA declares any teams participating in the NIT ineligible to compete in the NCAA tournament.


In 1951, several players were arrested for fixing games, including this trio from the City College of New York. AP Images

Seven schools are implicated in a point-shaving scandal in which players were offered bribes to fix games. Most notably, The City College of New York and Kentucky are involved. In the aftermath, CCNY and three other New York-based schools never return to prominence, and the NCAA tournament usurps the New York-based NIT as the nation’s pre-eminent postseason contest.


Kentucky, at that point a three-time NCAA champion, cancels its 1952-53 basketball season in the wake of the scandal.


The free-throw lane expands from 6 feet to 12 feet wide.


Offensive goaltending is banned.


The NCAA holds the first College Division men’s basketball tournament, which is made up of smaller schools that typically couldn’t compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

March 1964

UCLA coach John Wooden, flanked by Lew Alcindor (left) and Sidney Wicks, celebrates the team’s third consecutive national championship. The Bruins beat Purdue 92-72 to capture the 1969 title. AP Images

UCLA captures its first national championship under the stewardship of John Wooden. Wooden and the Bruins would go on to win 10 national titles over a 12-year stretch before the coach’s retirement in 1975. UCLA’s run cemented college basketball’s transition from New York-centric origins to a sport that garnered national fanfare. Wooden reportedly was paid around $25,000 annually to coach the team.

March 1965

Sonny Vaccaro, a Pennsylvania teacher, helps organize the first Dapper Dan Roundball Classic in Pittsburgh. Featuring elite high school players from around the country, the contest draws 10,000 fans and is a precursor to talent-laden summer camps, all-star games and clinics that would rise to prominence (and draw the attention of top coaches and apparel companies) in the ensuing decades.

March 1966

Texas Western defeated Kentucky 72-65 to win the 1966 NCAA title. NCAA Photos Archive

Texas Western started five African-American players in its NCAA Division I championship win against Kentucky, marking the first time a team fields an all-black starting lineup in an NCAA championship game.


The dunk is made a violation.


NBC begins airing the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The network would go on to maintain broadcast rights for Division I through the 1981 event.


Freshmen are declared eligible to compete.


Divisions II and III are formed, expanding the opportunity for schools to play in the postseason.


The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament expands from 25 to 32 teams.


The dunk is again made legal.


Vaccaro, having built close relationships with prominent college coaches in the decade since he held the first Roundball Classic, is offered a role at Nike. The shoe company, through Vaccaro, pays a dozen coaches to outfit their teams in Nike shoes, birthing the idea of college apparel contracts. Early adopters are then-Iona coach Jim Valvano and UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian. In 1978, Nike was selling only about $7 million a year in basketball apparel. A decade later, that figure had risen to $300 million.

March 26, 1979

Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird launched their rivalry in the 1979 championship game. NCAA Photos Archive

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson square off in what remains the most-watched NCAA championship game in history. More than 35 million viewers see Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeat Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores, setting the stage for several major broadcast rights deals to come.


A handful of Boston College players are implicated in a point-shaving scandal. One player is sentenced to 10 years in prison, later reduced to 28 months.


The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament expands to 48 teams.

March 1980

ESPN becomes the first network to air early-round NCAA tournament games, broadcasting 23 contests in March.

March 1981

CBS outbids NBC for broadcast rights to the NCAA Final Four, shelling out $48 million for the right to air the 1982-84 events, a 60 percent annual increase from NBC’s most recent contract. A bulk of the money is distributed to schools.

March 1982

Michael Jordan’s shot secured North Carolina’s second NCAA title. NCAA Photos Archive

North Carolina’s Michael Jordan makes his first leap toward stardom by hitting a title-clinching jump shot in the NCAA Division I championship game against Georgetown.


Vaccaro holds the first ABCD All-America Camp, which draws the nation’s top high school players and a litany of college coaches. The event runs every year until 2007 and begets a slew of other camps run by major apparel companies in the ensuing decades.


The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament expands to 64 teams.


The 45-second shot clock is introduced.


The 3-point line is introduced. It is initially set at 19 feet, 9 inches from the center of the basket.

November 1989

Jim Nantz has called the Final Four since 1991. Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

CBS pays $1 billion for exclusive rights to broadcast the NCAA Division I tournament from 1991 to 1997, an average of $143 million per year.


Delegates at the annual NCAA Convention adopt legislation requiring all schools to submit graduation rates annually.


In the wake of that landmark broadcast rights deal, the NCAA recalibrates how it awards that money to schools, providing funds to members based on their NCAA tournament performance and the number of sports they sponsor. Funds also are provided for programs to help student-athletes.

March 1992

Jalen Rose, one of Michigan’s famous “Fab Five” freshmen, could muster only 11 points in a loss to Duke in the 1992 championship game. NCAA Photos Archive

More than 34 million viewers tune in to watch Duke’s veterans and Michigan’s captivating freshmen square off in the national championship game. Duke wins 71-51.


The shot clock is reduced to 35 seconds.


A six-year investigation uncovers serious violations in the Michigan basketball program, including payments and gifts to players from Ed Martin, a basketball booster. Martin is found to have loaned players more than $600,000.


Division I develops the Graduation Success Rate, a measure of academic success that takes transfers into account.


Texas’ Kevin Durant, selected in the 2007 NBA draft, was among the first affected by the new one-and-done rule.

As part of labor negotiations, the NBA institutes a provision stating that players are ineligible to be drafted until they are 19 and at least a year removed from high school. The shift forces players who might have been drafted directly from high school to attend college, where they play for only one year before entering the draft.


Gene J. Puskar / AP Images

The 3-point line is extended to 20 feet, 9 inches.

April 2010

CBS and Turner Broadcasting sign a joint broadcast rights deal for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, paying $10.8 billion to air the event through 2024. The deal’s annual rights fee is $771 million.


Annual budget for the NCAA Student Assistance Fund eclipses $50 million.


The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament expands to 68 teams.


The shot clock is reduced to 30 seconds.

January 2015

Major Division I conferences approve a rule that allows them to provide student-athletes scholarships that cover the federally defined full cost of attendance, including expenses beyond tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

October 2015

Texas and Nike agree to a 15-year, $250 million sponsorship deal. At the time, it’s the largest of its kind.

January 2016

Ohio State and Nike reach a 15-year, $252 million sponsorship deal, narrowly edging Texas for the largest ever.

April 2016

CBS, Turner and the NCAA extend their broadcast rights deal for $8.8 billion through 2032.


Higher initial eligibility standards for Division I student-athletes take effect. Freshmen are expected to have a high school GPA of 2.3 or above in core courses, up from 2.0.


Nike basketball apparel sales (excluding the Jordan brand) reach $1.37 billion.

May 2016

UCLA signs a 15-year, $280 million shoe and apparel deal with Under Armour. At more than $18 million per year, it remains the largest deal of its kind.

October 2016

Division I approves new rule mandating that a portion of revenue distributed to schools be based on student-athletes’ academic performance.

August 2017

A month before the athletics department becomes embroiled in scandal involving impermissible benefits, youth coaches and shoe executives, Louisville and Adidas agree on a $160 million shoe and apparel contract

September 2017

Kansas and Adidas announce a 14-year, $191 million sponsorship and apparel agreement, one of the five largest deals of its kind in history.

September 29, 2017

Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, detailed charges stemming from the FBI’s college basketball investigation. Bebeto Matthews / AP Images

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unveils findings from an FBI investigation into alleged corruption, bribery and wire fraud involving major college programs, including Arizona, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Southern California, Miami (Florida) and Louisville.

October 2017

In response to the allegations and FBI investigation, the NCAA forms the independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The commission is charged with examining the relationship among youth basketball organizations, the NCAA and its member schools, agents, shoe companies and the NBA, and recommending comprehensive changes to clean up the sport.


The Division I men’s basketball Graduation Success Rate reaches 82 percent, up from 56 percent in 2002 when data was first collected.

March 2018

Among coaches participating in the 2018 NCAA tournament, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has the highest annual compensation at just under $9 million, followed by Kentucky’s John Calipari at nearly $8 million and Chris Holtmann of Ohio State at $7.1 million, USA Today reports.

April 2, 2018

Villanova beat Michigan 79-62 to capture the 2018 NCAA championship, the program’s second national title in the past three seasons. NCAA Photos Archive

Villanova beats Michigan to capture its second national championship in three seasons. The game garners 16.5 million viewers, the lowest of any title game in history. Meanwhile, the game drew 67,831 fans, marking the 10th consecutive year that at least 65,000 people have attended the championship game.

April 25, 2018

In April 2018, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the Commission on College Basketball recommendations. The commission suggested sweeping recruiting reforms and other changes. Darron Cummings / AP Images

The Commission on College Basketball proposes sweeping reforms via a 52-page report. Rice outlines those recommendations at an event at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis. They include eliminating the NBA’s one-and-done rule, permitting contact between agents and top athletes, establishing new protocols for high-profile infractions cases, heightening punishments for violations, mitigating youth basketball’s influence on the sport and adding independent members to the NCAA Board of Governors.

August 8, 2018

The NCAA announces significant reforms to Division I college basketball and the Association at large, mirroring much of what the Commission on College Basketball recommended.

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