Overall Division I basketball attendance fell ever so slightly in 2016 to 27,234,610 (including home attendance, neutral-site attendance and NCAA tournament attendance). To put the attendance decline into perspective, it dropped roughly 0.7 percent year-over-year (most certainly not a significant decrease).
Even so, the NCAA's release is an interesting document, just to see where the Big Ten stacks against the rest of the country in attendance. Now, arena size plays a factor, as does fan loyalty and on-court performance, and the Big Ten has quite the loyal fan base.
The Top Five Overall
Kentucky (23,361), Syracuse (21,592), Louisville (20,859), North Carolina (18,326) and Maryland (17,863) made up the top five in 2016 home attendance (average home game attendance in parenthesis). There weren't many major surprises in the top five, maybe other than Maryland, but Kentucky, Syracuse, Louisville and North Carolina all claim to be among the bluebloods of college basketball, and certainly their attendance backs up such claims.
Maryland had a resurgence last season (and a bit the year before too), which might account for their ascension. But, interestingly, Maryland had the largest attendance gain (year-over-year) of any school in Division I college basketball. The Terrapins averaged 12,694 fans at home games in 2015, and saw that number jump to 17,863 in 2016 (a 40 percent increase).
Seven Big Ten Teams in the Top 25
In addition to Maryland, the Big Ten placed six other teams in the top 25: Wisconsin at sixth (17,287); Indiana at seventh (17,106); Nebraska at eleventh (15,429); Michigan State at thirteenth (14,797); Iowa at nineteenth (13,835); Purdue at twentieth (13,662).
Perhaps Nebraska is the biggest surprise on the list; the Cornhuskers finished eleventh in the Big Ten win-loss standings, but fourth in attendance. Although, Tim Miles does have the campus energized about the basketball program and its promising future. (Just watch this Tim Miles clip to get a glimpse of his personality and allure.) It also helps that Nebraska built a new arena that is quite the sight, with the new arena quickly becoming a fan favorite
The Rest of the Big Ten
The NCAA only listed the top 100 Division I programs in attendance and only one program failed to make the top-100 (I'll give you one guess). Illinois (27th), Ohio State (28th), Michigan (33rd), Minnesota (38th), Northwestern (72nd) and Penn State (73rd) all made the top 100 in home attendance and you probably guessed it, but Rutgers didn't crack the list. In case you're curious, the Scarlet Knights averaged 4,653 fans over their 18 home games, by far the worst attendance in the conference.
The Big Ten had strong fan attendance in 2016. In fact, the conference finished first overall in total and average attendance during the regular season (3,105,265 in total attendance, or 12,555 per game).
After the Big Ten, the SEC, the ACC, the Big 12 and the Big East rounded out the top-five, respectively.
Certainly, no one can argue the Big Ten's off-the-floor health. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany reportedly negotiated a mega-rights deal with Fox Sports to begin in the Fall of 2017. (The initial package includes 25 football games and 50 basketball games. Delany still has the second half of the package for sale too.)
A number of metrics, including the recent attendance figures, seem to indicate that Big Ten basketball is thriving. Of course the Big Ten has consistently posted strong attendance numbers, so it's business as usual for the conference.