If two Big Ten teams making the Final Four didn’t offer enough proof that the conference had a great season in 2015, the NCAA’s attendance figures certainly hammered the point home. Released on Monday, the numbers showed that the Big Ten led all conferences in average attendance for the 39th straight season with 12,781 fans-per-game. The only other conferences to top 10,000 fans were the ACC (11,368,) the SEC (10,819) and the Big 12 (10,181). On top of that, the conference drew in 3,195,137 fans total in home and conference tournament games, first in the nation and second all-time.
Obviously, the additions of Maryland and Rutgers helped raise those numbers somewhat. At the same time, the Big Ten featured 11 schools that averaged more than 10,000 fans a contest. With just 41 schools in the nation able to accomplish that feat, the Big Ten represented 27 percent of that number.
While Wisconsin was the only school in the conference to finish in the top five in attendance by coming in at fifth with an average of 17,279, the Big Ten put three schools into the top ten with Indiana (16,288) coming in at eighth and Nebraska (15,569) at tenth. The ACC also had three top ten schools in Syracuse (first), Louisville (third) and North Carolina (fourth).
The rest of the fans in the Big Ten didn’t perform too shabby either, with Michigan State (14th), Illinois (15th), Ohio State (16th), Iowa (20th), Maryland (25th), Michigan (28th), Minnesota (29th) and Purdue (32nd) all averaging over 10,000 attendees every contest. And while Penn State, Northwestern and Rutgers all failed to reach that mark, each of them still managed to finish in the top 100, at 56th, 71st and 91st, respectively.
One school that really stands out despite their rank is Penn State. While 8,044 fans-per-game doesn’t sound like many, it was a 22 percent increase from the 6,257 average the Nittany Lions finished with in 2014, good for fifth in the nation in increased attendance behind North Carolina State, Auburn, Virginia and Utah. Other Big Ten schools that ranked ranked highly in this category are Rutgers (15th) and Minnesota (28th).
What does all of this mean? Well for starters, it proves that the fanbases and student bodies in the Big Ten are as passionate about basketball as almost any in the country. It’s no secret that the Big Ten is a strong conference, both recently and historically, but these numbers show that supporters of these schools deserve to be mentioned along with North Carolina, Kentucky and Duke when devoted college basketball fans are being discussed. Along with that though, it shows that the Big Ten has consistently great fans throughout the conference, and is not being carried by just one basketball crazy school. If schools like Nebraska can continue to post such high numbers, and if Penn State and Rutgers can keep growing, the future will continue to be bright for the Big Ten.