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Hoosiers rank 8th in country in men's basketball attendance, but NCAA data doesn't show entire story

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These numbers look pretty good, but what do they really mean?

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Yesterday, the NCAA released attendance rates for the 2014-15 men's basketball season. While overall attendance for men's basketball games went up from last year, Division I games went slightly down in attendance year over year from 2013-14. An average of 63 fewer people took in games in 2014-15; however, attendance was still up at the NCAA Tournament for the year.

Of all schools, Indiana University came in 8th nationally for average home basketball attendance, with an average of 16,288 people at each Assembly Hall game. Within the B1G, this was second only to Wisconsin, who was returning basically everyone from a Final Four run and ended up making it to the title game. In terms of overall attendance, including away and neutral-site games, the Hoosiers ranked 9th in the country, with over 521,000 total people show up to Indiana's 35 games in the past season. The past two years have seen a number of complaints about the basketball team, along with concerns about the Assembly Hall crowds, but the attendance rates prove that Indiana basketball is still a hot ticket that people are buying. In addition, the Big Ten ranked first in average attendance by conference, despite attendance being down on average from the previous season (likely due to the addition of Rutgers and its smaller arena).

Additionally, the NCAA doesn't publicize that attendance went down in regular-season neutral-site games. Despite a record-high number of neutral games during the season, attendance on average went down by almost almost 500 fans for these contests. This is reflected IU's two prominent games in Madison Square Garden last year against Louisville and Georgetown. Both games had fewer patrons than even the smallest crowds at Assembly Hall, which makes me wonder how often teams will continue the non-tournament neutral site games in the future.

However, the NCAA data only goes so far in showing attendance statistics. This data only shows the number of attendees without any context for how large an arena is. For example, Duke only ranks 47th in attendance overall, but Cameron Indoor Stadium seats under 10,000 people to begin with. On the other hand, Georgetown, whose average attendance is just about Duke's, plays in the much larger Verizon Center, sharing its home with the NBA's Washington Wizards.

Thus, the attendance numbers provided by the NCAA don't always show the true picture of how well teams are filling up their home arenas. So I decided to add the capacity figures for some arenas, to give some context of how well each team does at filling up their own venue.

Here are how the top 10 teams measure up in terms of filling up their arena:

Team
National Rank
Average Attendance
Capacity
% Full
Syracuse
1 23,854
33,000
72.3%
Kentucky
2
23,572
23,500
100.3%
Louisville
3
21,386
22,000
97.2%
North Carolina
4
19,582
21,750
90.0%
Wisconsin
5
17,279
17,230
100.3%
Creighton
6
17,048
17,272
98.7%
Kansas
7
16,383
16,300
100.5%
Indiana
8
16,288
17,472
93.2%
BYU
9
16,125
20,951
77.0%
Nebraska
10
15,569
16,000
97.3%

As you can see, Syracuse led the nation in attendance last season. Despite their self-imposed postseason ban, this makes sense, given that the Carrier Dome is both their home football stadium and basketball arena, so it holds a huge capacity, and the Orange sold over 35,000 tickets for their game against Duke.

And here are the Big Ten figures:

Team
National Rank
Average Attendance
Capacity
% Full
Wisconsin
5
17,279
17,230
100.3%
Indiana
8
16,288
17,472
93.2%
Nebraska
10
15,569
16,000
97.3%
Michigan State
14
14,797
14,759
100.3%
Illinois
15 14,652
16,618
88.2%
Ohio State
16
14,648
18,809
77.9%
Iowa
20
14,101
15,000
94.0%
Maryland
25
12,695
17,950
70.7%
Michigan
28
12,316
13,751
89.6%
Minnesota
29
12,188
14,625
83.3%
Purdue
32
11,523
14,123
81.6%
Penn St
56
8,044
15,261
52.7%
Northwestern
72
6,914
8,117
85.2%
Rutgers
91
5,770
8,000
72.1%

If we re-rank the B1G by the percent of the arena filled on an average game day, however, we get a slightly altered ranking:

Team
National Rank
Average Attendance
Capacity
% Full
Wisconsin
5
17,279
17,230
100.3%
Michigan State
14
14,797
14,759
100.3%
Nebraska
10
15,569
16,000
97.3%
Iowa
20
14,101
15,000
94.0%
Indiana
8
16,288
17,472
93.2%
Michigan
28
12,316
13,751
89.6%
Illinois
15 14,652
16,618
88.2%
Northwestern
72
6,914
8,117
85.2%
Minnesota
29
12,188
14,625
83.3%
Purdue
32
11,523
14,123
81.6%
Ohio State
16
14,648
18,809
77.9%
Rutgers
91
5,770
8,000
72.1%
Maryland
25
12,695
17,950
70.7%
Penn St
56
8,044
15,261
52.7%

In terms of filling to capacity, Indiana still does well, but now only ranks 5th in the conference. When looking at the data, however, the NCAA doesn't celebrate a school like Michigan State, whose games sell out night after night but in a smaller arena. One surprising team at the top of these charts is is Nebraska, a team that went 13-18 and didn't win a single game after February 3 but still managed to fill their arena to over 97 percent capacity. While it helps that Pinnacle Bank Arena is still very new and that the Huskers went to the tournament in 2014, the attendance figures are still pretty solid, considering Nebraska is more known for their football team. (Or maybe the Cornhusker State is just a sleeping giant of basketball fans: in-state rival Creighton also had a down year but also commanded large home crowds in Omaha.) Additionally, I do not expect Maryland to be this far down on the attendance figures next year. Xfinity Center is a huge building, and with a team that should be preseason top-5, I expect tickets to be in much higher demand in College Park for 2015-16.

One final note is that these figures likely take everyone who has purchased a ticket into account, including season ticketholders. So even if Assembly Hall doesn't always look as crowded on television, this data shows that someone has likely purchased those tickets, but for whatever reason, decided not to show up at the game.