Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball”

the-road-to-madnessThe Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball. By J. Samuel Walker and Randy Roberts. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

If you are even a moderate college basketball fan you cannot go wrong by reading this book. It is a well-researched and well-written history of the 1973-1974 NCAA basketball season and the beginnings of the expansion of the NCAA tournament and its transition into full-blown “March Madness.” It tells the story of legendary coaches and teams, including one in his twilight, John Wooden and his UCLA team that had won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period (including seven in a row). It discusses the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which had several great teams—UNC, NC State, Duke, Maryland, and Virginia—but only one of which could participate in the limited NCAA tournament as conference champion.

This was the last year in which that would be the case, and the expansion of the NCAA tournament the next year began the process whereby rivalries and even grudges became common themes of March Madness, as the “Final Four” showdown developed. This is a narrative history, and a very fine one, but also one which asks a significant question, how does a cultural touchstone—in this case the NCAA basketball tournament—emerge from what went before. It pursues the answer with verve and style.

The scholarship is excellent; I especially appreciated the insights offered by the authors’ efforts to blend oral history with scholarly reflection. This is not surprising coming from two very fine historians with a wealth of experience in crafting fine historical narratives. Enjoy.

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