LOPRESTI: Who’s on first for Big Ten attendance rankings?

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mike lopresti sportsThe latest college basketball rankings are in, and we can say without fear of contradiction that the Indiana Hoosiers are a top 10 team.

In attendance.

Yes, maybe seventh place in the Big Ten last season was not anyone’s idea of wonderful, but you couldn’t tell from the ticket windows at Assembly Hall. Indiana clocked in at No. 8 in the final NCAA attendance list, at 16,288 customers a game. This, even though the upper deck in Bloomington is no place for anyone with acrophobia, which is the fear of heights. Or wheeze-o-phobia, which is the fear of climbing about a zillion steps to your section.

Purdue? No. 32, at 11,523 a game. Notre Dame? No. 59, at 7,715. Butler? No. 66, at 7,373. Evansville and Indiana State were both in the 4,000-plus range, Valparaiso, 3,000 and change.

IUPUI? Way down the list at 1,527, but that’s nothing to throw popcorn at. The average Jaguars attendance in 2014 could nearly fit into two jumbo jets at 615, so that represents a 150-percent increase. They didn’t move their games to the State Fairgrounds to be closer to the swine barn.

Ten other stories the attendance numbers of college basketball told:

n The Big Ten might still be looking for its first national champion in 15 years, but it remains a box office juggernaut. The league led the world with a total attendance of 3,195,137. In other words, more people went to see Big Ten basketball games than the entire population of Mongolia.

The conference had 11 of the top 32 schools in average attendance, starting with Wisconsin at No. 5. New lodge member Maryland was a big help at No. 25. Rutgers, not so much; the Scarlet Knights and their 5,770 average were down at 91st, four spots behind Hawaii.

Plus, this is the wrong sport for Penn State to flex its turnstile muscle. The Nittany Lions drew a total of 128,701 for 16 home basketball games. It was an increase, but not that much more than they average—101,623—for one football game.

• Who’s No. 1? Syracuse, at 23,854. If you’ve ever been to western New York in January, you understand there’s not much else to do, unless you drive a snowplow. But since the Orange were in the doghouse and ineligible for the postseason, does that come with an asterisk?

• The hottest state at the gate is Kentucky. But you probably knew that already. Kentucky was No. 2 at 23,572, only some of the attendees being NBA scouts or John Calipari’s recruits for next year. Louisville was No. 3 at 21,386. Yet another category where the Cardinals must endure finishing behind their neighbors.

• Kentucky, by the way, is the Taylor Swift of college basketball when it comes to packing ’em in on tour. Counting home, road and neutral games, the Wildcats drew 845,594—roughly 144,000 more than second-place Wisconsin. Indiana was No. 9.

• The only other state besides Kentucky with two schools in the top 10 of attendance? That basketball-loving commonwealth of … Nebraska. The most remarkable attendance feat in the nation might be Creighton, going 14-19 and tying for last in the Big East, but standing No. 6 in the nation in attendance at 17,048. (Villanova won the Big East and finished 44th in attendance.)

Then again, Nebraska finished 12th in the Big Ten standings, but 10th in national attendance. Which means the only two teams in the top 10 with losing records both come from the same state. What next, a movie called “Huskers”?

• Curious, the name down there at No. 47, behind Xavier and barely ahead of Utah State.

Yep. Duke. The price of the charm of Cameron Indoor Stadium is fewer tickets to sell to boosters who would be more than happy to empty their wallets at any price to share air space with Mike Krzyzewski. But the Blue Devils aren’t complaining about their cozy home, and they won’t—until they run out of room for their championship banners.

• Not a great year for Ball State at the gate. The Cardinals averaged only 9,389 a game in football, and followed that with 2,806 for basketball. Maybe alum David Letterman might want to come, with all his new spare time.

• So much for tradition. Forty years after John Wooden retired, UCLA finished 60th in attendance, at 7,700 a game. Steve Alford drew bigger crowds at New Castle.

• Never mind Syracuse and Kentucky at the top; perhaps you’re wondering who finished last in Division I. Grambling at 305. Plenty of tickets available at the door.

• Let’s hear it for Wabash. The Little Giants finished No. 21 in Division III attendance, the highest spot for any Indiana school other than IU. Franklin was No. 24 in D-III.

The NCAA said more than 27 million people came to Division I games last season. No word on how many of them were in office pools in March.•


Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mlopresti@ibj.com.

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