The upsetting news about NCAA Tournament ‘upsets’

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One by one, the upsets and near-upsets peppered Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament. Like excitement in Kevin Harlan’s voice, there was no stopping it.

No. 14 seeds UAB and Georgia State pulled off the biggest upsets, while lower seeds UCLA and Ohio State enjoyed mini-upsets. Northeastern, Harvard and Wofford led the charge of near-upsets as the day saw a dizzying FIVE one-point games.


All in all, it made for an upsetting day for most coaches, players, fans, gamblers and the millions playing along at home on their brackets.

Which brings us to that word, “upset.” You probably heard it a thousand times on Thursday and you’ll likely hear it as many times today. What exactly does it mean? And where did it originate?

Merriam-Webster defines it such: “to defeat unexpectedly.”

The wiseguy at the end of the bar may have once blurted out something about a horse named Upset, who was the only equine to defeat the great Man ‘O War in 1919. Thus, the sports term “upset” was born.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Upset indeed won the race, hanging the only career loss on Man ‘O War, but the term was around long before that.

In 2002 historian George Thompson found that 40 years before Upset’s upset, the New York Times wrote:

The programme for to-day at Monmouth Park indicates a victory for the favorite in each of the four events, but racing is so uncertain that there may be a startling upset.

Some published references of the word date as far back as 1822.

This might be a little upsetting to some of you who have been perpetuating this urban legend for years.

Oh, well.

So, while the upsets were incredibly exciting and kept us glued to the TV all day, surely millions regret ever having filled out an NCAA Bracket.

By the way, Regret? She was Upset’s stablemate and became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby. True story.

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