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Gary Putnik and staff | March 20, 2023

The March Madness Boss Button — a discrete history

2023 March Madness Boss Button

Hello, college basketball fans. You've likely heard of the March Madness Boss Button. If not, let us explain. It's the feature built into the March Madness Live streams on the web that helps you quickly hide the game(s) you are watching from someone looking over your shoulder. Hit the button, the live stream goes away, and is replaced by something that looks like "work."

Here is a quick history of what the March Madness boss button looked like through years.

The computer boss button has a long and colorful history that stretches back at least to when Michael Jordan was a freshman at North Carolina. Home computing pioneer Roger Wagner is credited by several sources with inventing the boss button in 1982. Players who wanted to hide that they were blasting aliens in "Bezare" could hit CTRL-B to quickly bring up this screen:

1982 Boss Button has this excellent rundown of the boss button in computing, which also includes a link to For the Win's history of the March Madness boss button.

Fast forward to when CBS debuted the March Madness boss button in 2006 to go along with its live stream. The first iterations were typical stuff you’d see on in-office computers like Excel spreadsheets or graphs and charts:

The 2006 March Madness boss buttonThe 2006 March Madness boss button

2006 doesn't sound like that long ago. But, to give you an idea of how long ago that really was — in digital years — let's look at how the Chicago Tribune covered this new streaming thing:

The site will essentially work on a first-come, first-serve basis due to bandwidth constraints. Those who can't access the games when they log on will be placed in a "waiting room" where scores and tournament brackets are updated, and visitors will be informed on when they can watch the game.

Indeed, the amount of bandwidth used to watch video on the Web could strain corporate networks, said Mike Hronek, a presales networking engineer for Vernon Hills-based CDW Corp.

"We will see a strain on networks if companies are not set up for this," Hronek said. "These games start right in the middle of the day. The early afternoon is the busiest time for corporate networks. If a company is not set up to eliminate this traffic, it certainly could slow their traffic."

As it continued to evolve, future iterations took a bit more chances when it came to making jokes. In 2010, the Boss Button featured art from the creator of the Dilbert comic Scott Adams. It also had a flow chart with jokes such as “Continue doing nothing.” and “Grow a beard and mumble jargon to appear indispensable.” 

When Turner Sports took the lead on the button, the first couple of years took on the look of an email inbox. In 2013, the inbox became more interactive instead of just a still image. Fans could click around different messages and folders on the page before heading back to the games:

The 2013 March Madness boss button

With computers becoming more present in high school and college classrooms, students needed a way to hide the games when their teachers walked by.

Here's the 2015 version:

The 2015 March Madness boss button

This added new layers to the Boss Button, people could now choose between three presets “Work”, “Class” and “Home”. 

The “Work” button would take you to a PowerPoint about how to disguise a March Madness watch party. “Class” would take you to note sheets on topics such as “The History of Modern Alliances” and how to choose a team to root for if yours didn’t make the tournament that year. “Home” would take you to a homepage of a fake search engine. 

These three would continue to change each year, with new topics and jokes being featured in each section. 

In 2021, after video calls became the norm because of the pandemic, that year’s button took on the look of a conference call with mascots of teams from around the country. Brutus from Ohio State, Big Jay from Kansas, Purdue Pete, Griff II from Butler and a few more made an appearance on the video. The crew even writes a few messages in the chat on the right side of the screen like Big Jay asking why he can’t hear anyone on the call.

2022's boss button brought back the video call gag — with actor and comedian Tracy Morgan on the call.

2023's version of the boss button is modeled after the chatbot in ChatGPT, which is thought to be the fastest-growing computer application ever:

The 2023 boss button

We asked ChatGPT what it thought of BossGPT before the 2023 tournament began. At first, it wasn't quite sure about it. However, we provided a URL and here's what it said: "Based on the URL you provided, I believe you're referring to the boss button on the NCAA March Madness Live website. From what I understand, the boss button on this website is a fun and creative feature that can help users quickly switch to a different screen or application that looks more professional or work-related, such as a spreadsheet or email inbox. It looks like the button features a humorous image of a generic boss figure, which adds a bit of personality and fun to the website's overall design."

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