It will all begin in earnest this Sunday March 11th as the invites to this years NCAA basketball tournament are announced. Offices around the country will follow the brackets and sheets leading up to the Final Four that will close out on 5 April. Many will be looking to cash in on pools or bragging rights to be sure. Some people will do research and others will pick the school they went to…still others will pick a name they recognize or a team with a cool uniform or mascot. Whatever the reason, “March Madness” is a special time of the year. If you find yourself particularly caught up in this season’s sensation, so much so that you decide to begin a collection of college basketball uniforms, you may want to consider my bracket selections as a way to get started.

A couple of things about my picks. First, my “bracket sheet” works sort of in reverse in that I recommend that you work your way out from the Final Four. This is because I feel they represent the best way to start and they will lead you to the others. Second, my bracket does not include 64+1 options as I can’t think of that many things to list. If you can, I would love to hear from you.

As you get started, think of all of this in the same terms as making your “tourney picks”… you want to win. This means start with a focus and decide what it is you want to collect as it will narrow your efforts. This may be like someone’s bracket picks; a team or player you recognize, a school you went to or follow, or just cool uniforms.

Books: I am old school in that I have long had a preference for published material. The images are useful and they are there whenever you need them. The other thing that is helpful and is an advantage over periodicals is books most often contain a bibliography, which in turn, can facilitate other finds or acquisitions.

Magazines: A much broader category that includes both team and non-team related issues. Non-team issues range from those that cover sporting events like Sports Illustrated and Sport Magazine, to those that focus on the sport within a given season such as the Street and Smith Publications or the older Basketball Annuals by Complete Sports Publications. Because of how these are published as a function of time, it makes dating photos easier in that a picture in a 1978-79 publication could not have been from a later season. Team issues such as yearbooks and programs share the same benefit of dating. In addition, team/school issues are source for roster information with respect to player size and uniform number.

Film: These are becoming more and more prevalent for any number of reasons. College teams are doing their own marketing and some individuals are making available older games that they recorded years ago. Film has an advantage over print in both the number of images and the variety. These include the fact that you see two teams and often get images of warm-up uniforms as well.

The Internet: I almost hate to list this, especially for new collectors in that it can enable them to build bad habits. By this I mean, I have seen a growing number of collectors who are “Google Bound”. They type in a search and if it does not produce what they are looking for, then it must not exist. The benefit’s, though do outweigh this drawback since the internet is a gateway to all the other things in my “Elite Eight.” It can be the source of buying reference material and actual uniforms when you are ready.

Other Collectors: Probably one of the better things going and at times, one of the tougher resources to begin using. The key is making contact with people who are already doing what you hope to do. On Line Forums are a great place to start, but be leery of those folks who are only interested in selling you items vs helping to educate you. You have to remember that if you expect people to share information with you, you will need to be willing to do the same thing over time. Also, don’t be one of the folks who expects everyone to answer you back right away. Remember they don’t know you and you don’t know them. Get out of the house and away from the keyboard in order to meet people as well.

Shows: I hope by now you see what I was talking about when I said work your way out from the Final Four. If you have, you will find that when you do go to shows (which I highly recommend), you will know what it is you are looking for as well as what questions you might have. Spend a little time and money and print up some very simple business cards that have your contact information on it. You can write on the back what you are looking for and can leave these with dealers and other collectors. Get a notebook to record any number of things from your wish list ranging from questions you might have to people you come in contact with, to items you saw at the show.

Auction Catalogs: Get on mailing lists when you can and buy older catalogs when they become available. Don’t get upset if you have to pay for these at first since they do cost the auction house money to produce. Over time, once you have become an established bidder, they are most often sent out as a matter of course. Take the time to note what is available as well what things sell for. This includes uniforms, photos, and other reference material. PLEASE resist the temptation to start with auction catalogs and bidding and buying. This can be an expensive lesson that is often made by new collectors.

Paper, Pens, & Stamps: I have saved this for last. If you have read through this article and not just “looked at the pictures”, then you may also have the patience for this one. It represents a combination of some of things I have mentioned. If you have decided on a team, consider writing someone at the University who is connected with the Basketball Program or the Athletic Department. THIS IS NOT A GET RICH SCHEME. Do not write them asking to send you uniforms or sell you items. Use this to establish a relationship with someone who can help you and don’t come across as a “prospector.” Questions you might have might include:

1. What sort of references does the school maintain?
2. Do they have a Hall of Fame that contains artifacts? If you are an advanced collector and have not tired this, consider doing so and offering to “loan them” something they might want to display?

If you are asking yourself why not just e-mail or call, then this is not for you. A letter takes time to write and is a far more personal means of communication. Once again, don’t expect a quick response or one at all. If you live close enough to the school in question, consider actually making a trip.

While the focus of this article by intent and timing is on collecting college basketball jerseys, it also really represents a template for any new collector. Some of the references might change as some segment of the hobby are more mature than others.

If you do begin collecting college basketball jerseys, or anything else, drop me a line later on and let me know how my “bracket picks” worked out. Hopefully all of this will take some of the “Madness” out of collecting for you.