The traditions of March Madness are unlike any other: Selection Sunday, One Shining Moment, and ... graphic design?
Yes! Each year, the Final Four receives its own customized design for the host site. The tradition began in 1979 in Salt Lake City, and from there it took off. Here's a look at the way logos have been used for more than half a century.
The first logo, which ran for 14 years, embraced a very Greek-themed Olympic sentiment. The second logo, which ran for nine years, is also very Olympic-adjacent, except this time it incorporates the interlocked rings rather than the Greek imagery. They're both very solid logos, and both obviously influenced by their eras.
And then the third logo here was used for the 50th anniversary of the NCAA tournament in 1988, when Kansas won its second national title.
I think the 1980 is probably my favorite of the Indianapolis batch: its clean layout is easy on the eye, and the offset basketball is an unexpected but pleasing touch of design flair. The 1991 logo gets points for the hand-drawn look, and the 1997 logo's font is just cartoonish enough to be fun: the elongated "L" in Final Four is excellent.
But this is a really well-rounded group of logos: the 1987 steamboat is inspired, a step out of the box in a big way, while the musical notes in 1993 and the sweeping cartoonish look of 2003 are both fun and colorful. And you can't beat a French Quarter-inspired look, complete with Bourbon Street signage, in 2012.
The first two play on the Seattle Space Needle, but the second logo (two in six years!) avoided repitition by playing on the Emerald City motif with the actual gemstone, and a lovely of-its-time font underneath. And, of course, the northwest is nothing without its natural beauty, which is what makes the 1995 logo so iconic: the font conjures rushing waters, and the evergreen trees and mountain peaks do the rest.
And the Alamo logos are both solid, but 2008 is probably my favorite. Putting a hat on the entire logo, and then putting the city name on a belt, is too much fun to pass up.
It's tempting to call the wild swirling peach from 2007 my favorite of the trio, but sometimes you nail it on the first try, and that's what happened in 2002: the soft peach color of the font and the peach-as-basketball illustration are just perfect.
But the 1985 logo is clearly the star, possibly the best Final Four logo the NCAA has ever produced. Combining the baby blue (Carolina blue?) with the dijon mustard state outline and font gives the whole design a distinguished look, and using a horse as the visual centerpiece is a no-brain victory. It's Kentucky to a tee, and it's a perfect logo.
Hot and Cold
In both instances, the clear paths were taken and executed perfectly: the ribbon-over-the-Rockies ruggedness of Denver's 1990 logo is a stately logo a mountaineer could be proud of, while Tampa's logo incorporates palm trees, ocean waters, a very turn of the century Florida font, and of course a basketball as the sun. They're both perfect for their locations. Bravo.
And in 2005, the designers took the obvious (and smart) route by making the St. Louis Arch the focal point of the logo, along with adding a ribboned touch to the bottom to represent the Mississippi River. It's essentially the ideal St. Louis Final Four logo, encapsulated in the style of its era.
The 2001 logo, a nice play on "Twin" Cities with twin basketballs, is very of its time. And next year's logo is a marvel, a sharp and flat illustration of the great northern state featuring the huge evergreen trees that the Minnesota Wild have used in their logo and jerseys since their inception.
It shouldn't be a shock that the northwest and Minnesota, two nature-first regions of the country, yield some of the prettiest logos.
Still, in their lone primetime spots, the cities' logos focused on their most distinctive iconography: in Philadelphia, just as in the Big 5 logo, the Liberty Bell is front and center. It's a very simple and impressionistic logo, reminiscent of the Sixers' more recent designs, and it's one of the cleanest the Final Four's ever sen. The NY/NJ creation, meanwhile, puts the Statue of Liberty front and center, even in front of the basketball.
It's clear where you're playing these basketball games. Very, very clear.
The 1986, my favorite of the three, puts an emphasis on the city nicknamed Big D: the letter is literally the logo's border. The Skyline is pretty, and the yellow is striking. In 2014, the choice was to emphasize the venue (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas), and in 2016 the stars are a nod to NASA and the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. All three are fresh ideas, which are always welcome.
But once the site shifted to New Mexico, the classic southwest palette was ready for its close-up. The 1983 design patterned itself after the New Mexico state flag, a no-brainer since New Mexico has one of the prettiest state flag (and license plate) designs in the country. In 2017, the conventional wisdom -- more red and orange -- yielded yet another gorgeous, desert-minded logo in Phoenix, and the rest was history.