College football attendance in 2016: Crowds decline for sixth straight year

Home attendance at all major college football games declined for the sixth consecutive year, though once again at a smaller rate compared to some past seasons.

Football Bowl Subdivision crowds averaged 43,106 fans per game in 2016,downby less than 1 percent from 2015, according to a CBS Sports analysis of NCAA attendance data. The 2015 crowds also declined by less than 1 percent after a 4-percent drop in 2014.

This year's average crowd was again the lowest since 2000 (42,631). Crowd sizes were down 7 percent since peaking in 2008 (46,565). Universities have tried with mixed results to keep fans in stadiums instead of watching for less money from the comfort of their home.

As always, the data for this year's analysis counts only home games and not neutral-site venues. Figures represent the announced crowd totals schools reported to the NCAA and not necessarily actual attendance. Many athletic departments count attendance differently.

Michigan Wolverines led the FBS again with 110,468 fans per game. At the bottom was Ball State Cardinals (7,789 per game), whose total attendance of 38,946 was lower than what 58 FBS teams averaged over the course of the season.

Seventy-six percent of the top 25 attendance leaders experienced increases or remained the same. In 2015, only 44 percent of the top 25 could say that.

Despite another down year by Texas Longhorns that resulted in Charlie Strong getting fired, Longhorns crowds averaged 97,881 fans, up 9 percent for their best season since 2013. Their crowds got boosted by a much-anticipated Week 1 game vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish , which obviously came before the Irish lost so many games.

LSU Tigers fired Les Miles early in the season, but its crowds were up 8 percent from last year. That's largely because LSU had a smaller-than-usual 2015 SEC game at home that got moved from South Carolina Gamecocks , and the Tigers played a 2016 SEC game at home moved from Florida Gators with a large crowd.

One big attendance loser was Missouri Tigers , whose crowds dropped 20 percent one year after racial protests on campus that included a boycott by the football team. Once a perennial top-25 attendance leader, the Tigers averaged only 52,236 fans for its smallest crowds since 1996. Missouri expanded its stadium to 71,168 shortly after joining the SEC.

No. 9 Southern California Trojans 's crowds (68,459) were its smallest since 2002 (66,852). Ten years ago, the Trojans averaged 91,480 under Pete Carroll. USC started slow on the field this season, including a 52-6 loss to Alabama Crimson Tide , before finishing strong to earn a Rose Bowl trip. Still, USC didn't win a conference title for the eighth straight year, its longest drought since 1916-26.

The biggest decreases in the Power Five: Missouri (20 percent), Minnesota Golden Gophers (16 percent), Kentucky Wildcats (12 percent), Stanford Cardinal (12 percent), Maryland Terrapins (11 percent), USC (9 percent) and Arizona State Sun Devils (9 percent).

One of the big attendance winners was Miami, which saw its crowds increase by 23 percent under new coach Mark Richt. The Hurricanes' average of 58,572 was their best since 2004 (59,134) after spending many years over the past decade below 45,000.

Colorado Buffaloes 's surprising run to the Pac-12 Championship Game drew 46,609 fans per game for its best crowds since 2011. The Buffaloes were up 18 percent from 2015.

The biggest increases among Power Five schools: Miami (23 percent), Colorado (18 percent), Duke Blue Devils (13 percent), Iowa Hawkeyes (10 percent), Louisville Cardinals (10 percent), Illinois Fighting Illini (10 percent) and Texas (9 percent).

colorado-fans-ucla.jpg
Colorado fans showed out in a major way for the surging Buffaloes. USATSI

Conference breakdown

SEC: The SEC struggled on the field by its standards. In the stands, the SEC remained the national leader in attendance (77,565 fans per game, down 1 percent from a record-breaking 2015 season). Tennessee Volunteers surpassed 100,000 fans on average for the second straight year after not doing so from 2009-14. Texas A&M's crowds dipped 2 percent this season.

Big Ten: In the first year with nine Big Ten games, the league averaged 66,162 fans (up less than 1 percent from 2015). The return to prominence of Michigan and Penn State Nittany Lions helped offset smaller crowds at Maryland and Rutgers Scarlet Knights since they joined the league in 2014. Penn State was drawing roughly 4,000 fewer fans per game a couple years ago.

Big 12: Despite missing the College Football Playoff again, the Big 12 increased crowds by 1 percent to 57,238, ending three straight years of declining attendance. Texas, Oklahoma Sooners , Texas Tech Red Raiders and West Virginia Mountaineers were up. Baylor Bears was down only 1 percent after Art Briles' firing. Eighteen Group of Five teams drew more fans than Kansas Jayhawks (25,828), which finished last among Power Five schools.

Pac-12: Pac-12 crowds declined 3 percent to 50,112 and were down 14 percent since 2007. Washington Huskies was up 4 percent during its run to the playoff. The Pac-12's attendance leader (USC) ranked 22nd nationally and trailed nine SEC teams and seven Big Ten teams. Stanford and Oregon Ducks were also down. College football remains a tough sell on the West Coast.

ACC: At 49,827 fans per game, the basketball-centric ACC remained last among the Power Five. But the ACC was up 3 percent from last year. Louisville, Florida State Seminoles , Miami and Duke enjoyed spikes. Virginia Tech Hokies , which had fewer fans than Kentucky in 2015, was back near the top 25. Clemson Tigers (80,970) remained the ACC attendance leader and in the top 15.

AAC: The AAC, which averaged 31,611 (nearly the same as 2015), is clearly No. 1 for Group of Five crowds. Tom Herman's "H-Town Takeover" increased Houston Cougars crowds by 35 percent over two years. South Florida Bulls was up 41 percent in 2016 with a 10-2 record and a home game vs. Florida State. Temple Owls fell 38 percent without facing Notre Dame. Other than Brigham Young Cougars , East Carolina Pirates (44,113) had the largest crowds outside the Power Five.

Mountain West: The Mountain West averaged 24,142 per game, comfortably behind the AAC. Conference leader San Diego State Aztecs was up 28 percent. Wyoming Cowboys increased 18 percent. Nevada Wolf Pack , which fired coach Brian Polian, was down 17 percent.

Conference USA: At 19,849 fans per game, C-USA is clearly in the Sun Belt/MAC ballpark for fan interest as opposed to the AAC and Mountain West. Southern Miss (28,588) led C-USA. Florida Atlantic Owls , which fired coach Charlie Partridge, was down 43 percent to 10,073.

Sun Belt: The Sun Belt averaged 17,993 fans per game. Appalachian State Mountaineers , which had a home game against Miami, led the conference at 26,153 and topped Kansas' average. Appalachian State was up 22 percent.

MAC: Even with Western Michigan rowing the boat to an undefeated season and a Cotton Bowl bid, the MAC finished last at 16,062 fans per game. Western Michigan averaged 23,838, up 23 percent. In 2012, Northern Illinois Huskies averaged 20,877 while reaching a BCS bowl. This year, Northern Illinois fell to 11,019 (123rd out of 128 FBS teams).

College football attendance in 2016

School 2016 Average Change from 2015 Stadium Capacity Filled (2016)
Michigan 110,468 Less than +1% 103%
Ohio State 107,278 Less than +1% 105%
Texas A&M 101,917 -2% 99%
Alabama 101,821 +1% 100%
LSU 101,231 +8% 99%
Tennessee 100,968 Less than +1% 99%
Penn State 100,257 Less than +1% 94%
Texas 97,881 +9% 98%
Georgia 92,746 0% 100%
Nebraska 90,200 Less than +1% 104%
Florida 87,846 -2% 99%
Auburn 86,937 -1% 99%
Oklahoma 86,857 +2% 106%
Clemson 80,970 -1% 99%
Notre Dame 80,795 0% 100%
Wisconsin 79,357 +2% 99%
South Carolina 76,920 -2% 96%
Florida State 76,800 +5% 93%
Michigan State 74,667 Less than +1% 100%
Iowa 69,656 +10% 99%
Arkansas 69,581 +3% 97%
USC 68,459 -9% 73%
UCLA 67,459 +1% 74%
Ole Miss 64,910 +7% 101%
Washington 64,589 +4% 92%
Virginia Tech 63,043 +4% 96%
Miami 58,572 +23% 90%
BYU 58,569 Less than +1% 91%
Mississippi State 58,317 -6% 95%
Texas Tech 58,250 +3% 96%
West Virginia 57,583 +5% 96%
NC State 57,497 +1% 100%
Oregon 54,677 -5% 101%
Louisville 54,065 +10% 98%
Oklahoma State 53,814 -7% 89%
Kentucky 53,643 -12% 88%
Iowa State 52,557 -7% 86%
Missouri 52,236 -20% 73%
Kansas State 51,919 -2% 104%
North Carolina 50,250 +1% 80%
Arizona 48,288 -6% 87%
Arizona State 47,736 -9% 74%
Georgia Tech 47,503 -6% 86%
California 46,628 -4% 75%
Colorado 46,609 +18% 93%
Utah 46,506 Less than -1% 102%
Pittsburgh 46,076 -4% 70%
Baylor 45,838 -1% 102%
Illinois 45,644 +10% 75%
TCU 45,168 -3% 100%
Rutgers 44,804 -6% 85%
Stanford 44,142 -12% 88%
East Carolina 44,113 +2% 88%
Minnesota 43,814 -16% 83%
Indiana 43,027 -3% 82%
Virginia 39,929 -8% 65%
Maryland 39,615 -11% 76%
Houston 38,953 +15% 97%
Oregon State 37,622 +4% 83%
South Florida 37,539 +41% 57%
Memphis 37,346 -15% 66%
San Diego State 37,289 +28% 73%
UCF 35,802 +16% 81%
Northwestern 34,798 +4% 74%
Purdue 34,451 -8% 60%
Boise State 34,273 +3% 94%
Cincinnati 33,585 -9% 96%
Syracuse 32,805 +2% 67%
Army 32,653 +5% 86%
Boston College 32,157 +6% 72%
Washington State 31,675 +8% 97%
Navy 31,571 Less than -1% 93%
Vanderbilt 31,242 -3% 77%
Duke 29,895 +13% 75%
Air Force 29,587 +14% 63%
Southern Miss 28,588 +1% 79%
Colorado State 27,600 +11% 85%
Temple 27,225 -38% 40%
Connecticut 26,796 -5% 67%
Wake Forest 26,456 -1% 84%
Appalachian State 26,153 +22% 113%
Kansas 25,828 -5% 51%
Fresno State 25,493 -12% 62%
Marshall 24,760 -6% 65%
Hawaii 24,521 +5% 49%
Western Michigan 23,838 +23% 79%
SMU 23,712 +13% 74%
Texas-San Antonio 23,038 Less than +1% 63%
Texas-El Paso 23,001 -1% 44%
Tulane 22,718 -1% 76%
Arkansas State 22,700 -1% 74%
Troy 22,534 +14% 75%
Rice 21,425 +11% 46%
Wyoming 21,266 +18% 73%
Ohio 21,190 -1% 88%
Georgia Southern 20,819 Less than +1% 83%
Toledo 20,628 -1% 79%
Louisiana Tech 20,412 -3% 73%
Louisiana-Lafayette 20,224 -6% 65%
Old Dominion 20,118 0% 100%
North Texas 19,878 +46% 64%
Tulsa 19,234 -2% 64%
Utah State 19,136 -10% 79%
New Mexico 18,708 -17% 48%
Nevada 18,501 -17% 62%
UNLV 18,389 -5% 50%
Texas State 18,120 Less than -1% 60%
Western Kentucky 17,705 -1% 80%
Eastern Michigan 17,677 +261% 59%
Buffalo 17,493 -5% 60%
Central Michigan 17,408 +11% 58%
Middle Tennessee 17,243 Less than +1% 56%
Miami (Ohio) 17,110 +9% 70%
Florida International 16,789 +9% 84%
South Alabama 16,250 +1% 49%
San Jose State 15,419 +1% 51%
Bowling Green 15,140 -23% 63%
Georgia State 15,103 +46% 54%
Massachusetts 14,510 +30% 85%
Charlotte 14,192 -3% 93%
Louisiana-Monroe 12,610 +7% 41%
Idaho 11,190 -4% 70%
Northern Illinois 11,019 -21% 47%
Kent State 10,898 -13% 44%
Akron 10,337 -43% 34%
Florida Atlantic 10,073 -43% 34%
New Mexico State 9,545 -45% 31%
Ball State 7,789 -2% 35%
Note: The percentage of stadiums filled can exceed the capacity size when schools report selling additional tickets. In some cases, capacity sizes are estimates.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jon Solomon is CBS Sports's national college football writer. A former Alabama resident, he now lives in Maryland and also writes extensively on NCAA topics. Jon previously worked at The Birmingham News,... Full Bio

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