For the first time in 81 years, there will be no NCAA basketball championship game in 2020. If you’re missing the Madness, the memorabilia can help recall some of those games from the past. There’s no more important program than the one from the first Final Four–which in this case was just a Final Two-than the one from the first NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1939. The number of surviving copies can likely be counted on two hands, but one of the best known examples is about to be sold.
Long-time collector Harold Sturner consigned the program to Yorker Sports, which is offering it in an eBay auction, set to end Tuesday night.
“After 20 years of voracious collecting and comparing notes with other basketball and program collectors, I would guess approximately ten exist,” he told us. “Probably less than five in this pleasing sort of condition.”
The 1939 NCAA Tournament was an eight team affair, with regional and semi-final games held across the country. Ohio State and Oregon advanced to the finals and met to decide the championship on the campus of Northwestern University in suburban Chicago on March 27. The Ducks came away with the first trophy, winning 46-33. Interestingly, it would be the last Final Four appearance for Oregon until 2017.
The program is nothing like the modern era issues, which run on for many pages with stories, stats and advertisements. Just a few pages long, it has a cover page with a photo of Patten Gymnasium, rosters, starting lineups and team photos for both teams and a back page. Not surprisingly, most wound up in World War II paper drives or were simply discarded after the game.
The program was printed on rather delicate paper stock and most of the surviving copies have creases, loose or missing pages or were folded in half to fit in a jacket pocket. Sturner’s copy doesn’t have any such issues. He says there have been only four other 1939 NCAA championship programs sold in the last two decades, most in lesser grade. As of Monday afternoon, bidding had topped $1,500 but was expected to go significantly higher before the end of the auction on Tuesday.
The second NCAA Championship program (Indiana over Kansas) actually seems to be even harder to find, according to Sturner and the third (Wisconsin over Washington State) is just as scarce as the first. Both of those games were played in Kansas City, MO.
“The NIT (played at Madison Square Garden) was the better publicized and more prestigious tournament at the time. The NCAA tournament was almost an afterthought in comparison, which may explain why so few of these exist.”
Sturner also owns the only known surviving ticket stub to the game but that isn’t for sale at the moment.
You can check out the program and track the auction here.