How did the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight get their names? The origins of the March Madness phrases

As the second weekend of the men's and women's NCAA Tournament begin, we enter one of the most recognizable rounds in sports – the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

But how did the the regional semifinals and finals get their names?

The men's NCAA Tournament began in 1939, when it had just eight teams compared to the 68 teams now, but it hasn't used the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight phrasing for the entirety of the tournament's history, and it wasn't until recently the NCAA began to market the third and fourth rounds as the phrases.

Here's how the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight came about:

The Florida Atlantic team practices before a Sweet 16 college basketball game at the NCAA East Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in New York.
The Florida Atlantic team practices before a Sweet 16 college basketball game at the NCAA East Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in New York.

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Who came up with the name Sweet 16?

The NCAA says the phrase was originally used in high school basketball tournaments, citing an example of an Iowa newspaper, The Davenport Democrat and Leader, using it in a story in March 1936.

It is believe Sweet 16 became associated with the tournament when CBS commentators began to use the term in the late 1980s, when the tournament expanded from 53 teams to 64 teams in 1985.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association trademarked the phrase in 1988, Slate reported in 2004, but chose to bargain with the NCAA on the use of Sweet 16 as the two sides struck a deal.

Where did the Elite Eight come from?

The NCAA says Elite Eight also came from high school basketball tournament, but specifically from Illinois.

The phrase came about in 1956, when the field for the Illinois High School Boys Basketball Championship was cut from 16 teams to eight.

It's also where the term "March Madness" originated, according to the Illinois High School Association.

The evolution of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight

The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are officially trademarked by the NCAA, along with March Madness, First Four and Final Four.

The phrases became more heavily branded in 2016, when the NCAA redesigned the courts for the tournament and Sweet 16 and Elite Eight began to appear on the baseline of the court.

Now, the phrases also appear in the midcourt logo.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who came up with Sweet 16 in basketball and elite eight? The origin