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A mid-April look at spring game attendance

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer set the bar high for Buckeye fans, and they cleared it on Saturday. A year after setting a new national record for spring game attendance, Meyer saw Ohio State fans answer his call to pack Ohio Stadium with over 100,000 fans for the annual spring game in Columbus this weekend. A grand total of 100,189 fans showed up in their best scarlet and gray to once again set the new national record for spring game attendance. It should go without saying nobody will top that number in the final few weeks of spring football action. Any school that could, in theory, challenge it has already played their spring game before a smaller number of fans.

Defending national champion Alabama is always a strong spring draw in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide fans turned up in droves once again this weekend with a total of 76,212 coming out for the spring game. That was roughly 11,000 more than what showed up last season, giving Alabama a nice little national championship bump this spring, and about 3,000 more than the spring total from 2014, when I first started keeping my own track of spring game attendance numbers. For the sake of comparison, Ohio State had 61,058 fans for the 2014 spring game and 99,391 last spring.

The biggest spike in spring game attendance this season was seen in Athens, Georgia, where first-time head coach Kirby Smart was welcomed by 93,000 fans for the Georgia spring game, doubling the 46,815 that came out last spring. Just as the first year of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan generated a new enthusiasm for Michigan football last spring, Smart appears to have grabbed Georgia by the leash with authority.

Speaking of Harbaugh, how is that Harbaugh effect going in Ann Arbor this spring? Putting aside his spring break practice¬†debates and thoughts on satellite camps, the spring game turnout this year took a drop at Michigan. Harbaugh’s first spring game as head coach of the Wolverines had 60,000 fans make it to the Big House last spring, while just 35,000 came out this spring. Why is that?¬†Michigan’s spring game was in early April, but this was also the case last year. The big difference was moving the spring game to a Friday night, instead of the more traditional Saturday afternoon. That may have had a negative impact on the attendance for the spring game, as fewer people would be expected to come out on a Friday night compared to a Saturday. There is certainly no Harbaugh fatigue at work in Ann Arbor, but you have to wonder if the drop in attendance will lead Michigan to go back to a Saturday spring game next year.

HOW THEY STACK UP

When it comes to evaluating spring game attendance figures it is important to keep a few things in mind. First, every school handles spring game attendance differently. Some will keep an actual count while others will provide a rough estimate. Sometimes those estimates are a bit optimistic, but because they are the official numbers, we go by them for this purpose of record keeping. So, I admit the numbers may not be accurate as a result, but it is an accepted margin for error. Also, some schools do not hold their spring games or scrimmage sin their normal football venue. Some will be held on a practice field or another athletic field on campus with a smaller capacity. So take all of that into consideration when viewing these numbers.

Some quick notes:

  • Miami saw a nice bump this year following the hiring of Mark Richt, who also appears to be making a strong effort to reconnect the program with Miami alums.
  • Nebraska, Tennessee and Penn State continue to be solid spring draws as well as Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia. All three saw more than 60,000 fans for the spring game.
  • The SEC has seen a total of 478,448 fans this spring, which is up about 70,000 from last season. Texas A&M did not hold a spring game last year but did add 27,412 to the conference total this season. Georgia’s big jump also helped boost the total.
  • The Big Ten led the nation in spring attendance last spring with 410,943 but only has 283,231 fans so far this spring. Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State still have spring games to play, but none will help the Big Ten catch their southern rivals.
  • Clemson and Florida State continue to carry the ACC with roughly 100,000 of the 141,000 to come out this spring.

The following schools have no data available as of this posting: New Mexico, New Mexico State, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, San Jose State, UL-Lafayette, UTEP.

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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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