When March rolls around every year, the nation comes down with a bad case of March Madness. The NCAA tournament has become a national pastime, but it got its start thanks to a Wisconsin native. Harold Olsen was born and raised in Rice Lake Wisconsin, and played basketball at the University of Wisconsin beginning in 1914. He went on to be named a two-time All–Big Ten player and first-team All-American. In 1915, Olsen and the Badgers compiled an enviable 20–1 record, and the Helms Athletic Foundation later named the team the national champion for that year. After his graduation 1918, Olsen began a coaching career, amassing a 259–197 record and five Big Ten championships.

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Olsen (holding the ball) and the 1917 Badgers 


Olsen then made an even bigger name for himself after joining the NCAA Basketball Committee. He came up with the 10 second rule, and the NCAA postseason tournament to crown a national champion. The first NCAA tournament in 1939 hosted a field of eight teams on the campus of Northwestern University. It was not a big hit at first, loosing $2,600 the first year, as it was competing with the much more popular National Invitational Tournament, which was held at Madison Square Garden in New York. Since then the tournament has grown into a massive event, which enthralls the nation every year.

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Olsen as a Freshman in 1915

Olsen was only 58 when he passed away in 1953. He was inducted posthumously into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. As you fill in your brackets and start watching the madness, tip your hat to Harold Olsen, the University of Wisconsin alumnus who helped to turn the doldrums of March into something truly special.