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A reminder that spring game attendance is useless, but some schools love it

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The spring football game or scrimmage season is underway with Duke getting in a spring scrimmage in Durham on Saturday. Illinois also hosted an open practice for fans. With the first taste of spring football on our hands, it is time to dive head first into the spring football attendance conversation for the 2017 season. But to sum things up before continuing, remember that spring football is not held in a uniform regard from conference to conference or program to program. The numbers clearly show that.

Over the past three years, I have taken the liberty of tracking spring football game attendance figures out of pure curiosity. What I have learned from the past three years is not exactly all that shocking. Big time programs tend to see a higher interest in spring football, which leads to a higher interest in spring football games and scrimmages, which in turn leads to higher attendance figures. Last year, Ohio State set a national spring game record by drawing over 100,000 fans to its spring football game. Georgia impressed everyone with its spring draw with over 90,000 fans showing up for a unique experience complete with a concert, topping perennial SEC spring game attendance champion contender Alabama in the process. Penn State, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Auburn continued to be among the nation’s leaders in spring game attendance with their usual big crowds. The same cannot be said for programs from the Group of Five, obviously, but even among the power conferences it is statistically clear the Big Ten and SEC are playing on a different playing field in the spring game attendance game compared to the Big 12 and Pac-12. The ACC tends to straddle the line.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when the spring game attendance numbers start to come together…

Not every school bothers to track attendance

In truth, most of the spring game numbers that are reported are actually estimates. That or it is an incredible coincidence that so many schools see an attendance figure that ends with a zero. In the three years I have tracked these numbers, Boston College, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Texas are the power conference programs that have not reported or supplied a spring attendance figure for one reason or another. A large number of Group of Five programs do not track attendance figures either. Each school has their own philosophy in place over such a thing, so it is not at all shocking to see a good number of schools not pay extra care and scrutiny to such a figure.

Some games or scrimmages will not be played in a stadium

Sometimes a school will take its spring scrimmage outside of the typical home stadium, which means the attendance maximum will potentially be significantly lower than usual. Arizona State played its spring scrimmage on a soccer field last year. Notre Dame Stadium renovations forced the Fighting Irish to hold its spring scrimmage on a non-traditional field in 2015, resulting in a crowd of just 3,590 compared to crowds of over 27,000 in 2014 and 2016 in Notre Dame Stadium.

Stadium renovations are often the main reason a power conference program will move its spring game to a different venue, but that is not always the case. Not having access to a home football stadium also comes into play. Temple and Pittsburgh have each played their spring scrimmage on a practice field or a high school field in recent years, for example. Part of the reason may be having to fund a lowly-attended spring game in an NFL stadium. It’s just not worth it.

Texas A&M didn’t hold a spring game for two years (2014 and 2015) due to ongoing renovations at Kyle Field and an inability to figure out an alternative location that would comply with SEC spring game rules.

Weather can also be a factor

Some games get rained out. Some fans choose not to put up with the weather for a spring game.

Every school treats it spring game differently

Schools like Nebraska, Alabama, Auburn, Penn State and Ohio State have used their spring game to be the focus of an entire weekend or community event by making it a pretty big deal over years. Alabama lets fans run on the field for autographs. Penn State has a fair atmosphere outside the stadium. Some schools charge admission. Some schools simply open the doors and let the fans come and go as they please. There is no one way to handle a spring game. All of these different mechanics play into how the game is seen by fans.

In 2015, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio made it a point to have more fans than ever attend the Michigan State spring game. It almost worked, but it would be another year (and a Big Ten title) before Michigan State hit the 50,000 mark. Michigan experimented with making the spring game a Friday night event. It worked, although it struggled to match the buzz over the first spring game with Jim Harbaugh the previous year. Georgia organized an elaborate concert event around the spring game and led the SEC in attendance.

Schools will continue trying new and innovative ways to make the spring game something fans want to flock to, while others will treat it as nothing more than an afterthought. For example, are you surprised Wisconsin has failed to draw 10,000 fans each of the past three years? Considering how successful Wisconsin has been, that may seem odd to you, but Wisconsin simply doesn’t treat its spring game as much of anything at all.

Who will be the spring game champions of 2017?

It goes without saying the Big Ten and SEC will be the dominating forces in the spring game attendance standings. With the biggest stadiums and some of the top annual spring draws between them, nobody will stand much of a chance to keep the pace. Eight of the top 10 spring game attendances were seen in the Big Ten or SEC in 2016. The two outliers were Florida State and Clemson of the ACC. Both the Seminoles and Tigers appear to go against the grain compared to the rest o the ACC, although Virginia Tech was right in the mix last year.

Speaking of Clemson, the defending national champions are one of a small handful of power conference teams to see an increase of spring game attendance each of the past two years (Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan State, and USC are the others) during this ongoing three-year research. Coming off a national championship, it would not be a stretch to think Clemson may see another year of increased attendance this spring, weather pending. The past two College Football Playoff national champions (Alabama and Ohio State) each saw a higher spring attendance compared to the previous season before winning the national title.

We’ll update the spring game attendance records throughout the spring, so stay tuned to see how it all plays out this year. Spring attendance numbers are good for PR purposes and gives some fans one more thing to brag about in the offseason.

Charles Woodson: Michigan isn’t putting emphasis on Ohio State game like they should

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Since retiring from the NFL, Charles Woodson has become increasingly vocal about his alma mater. Not only has the Michigan alum shouted out his love for the Wolverines, he’s also not shy in calling out the team after a few years of sub-par results — particularly when it comes to the game against their heated rival Ohio State.

You can add another chapter for Woodson in that matter over the weekend as the Heisman Trophy winner did not mince words in calling out how ‘The Game’ is being treated by some in Ann Arbor.

“You know what, to be quite honest, I really feel like in recent years there hasn’t been the emphasis I’m used to being put on that game,” Woodson told the Detroit Free Press on Saturday. “Every game has been put on the same level as that game. That’s not the way we were brought up. Not the way we were raised around here.

“We had no shame in saying (we were going to beat Ohio State). And every time I watch our teams in recent years, it’s ‘oh, it’s another game.’ It’s not.”

Woodson has already guaranteed a victory over the Buckeyes this spring at a commencement speech he gave to UM graduates and has been vocal about the program getting back to the position he had it in back in the late 1990’s when they were winning titles and — most importantly — beating Ohio State. The Wolverines have never beaten Urban Meyer since he arrived in Columbus and have just two wins in the series in the past 15 tries. Jim Harbaugh, who is certainly familiar with beating OSU as a player, is 0-3 against the Buckeyes as head coach.

It goes without saying that the team is very much aware of the current six-game losing streak they have against their chief rival and, given everything that has gone on this offseason, could be in their best position in years to get a win when the two meet in Columbus this November. However, Woodson might be getting a text message or phone call from Harbaugh to tone down the rhetoric just a tad given that he’s writing a check the players will have to cash.

Certainly everybody in Ann Arbor knows how big ‘The Game’ is to the school and will be emphasizing a win this year more than ever even without the extra push from one of the all-time greats in maize and blue.

WATCH: Paralyzed Georgetown football player walks across the stage at graduation

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You probably have never heard of TY Williams the football player but what the former Georgetown linebacker did this weekend at the school will surely bring a tear to your eyes.

Williams injured his spinal cord in a game back in September 2015 and suffered a fractured vertebra that left him partially paralyzed. Despite that, he followed up years of rehab on the injury to walk across the stage at the Hoyas’ graduation ceremony on Saturday to receive his degree from the university.

Boy, it sure is a little dusty up in here after watching that. Congrats to Williams and his family on an incredible achievement.

Ohio State led nation for total fan attendance in 2017, Michigan tops in average attendance at home

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In some not exactly breaking news, there are a lot of Ohio State fans out there. Not to be left out, their rivals to the North have quite a few people following the team in maize and blue too.

The National Football Foundation released an interesting set of facts and figures last week that was designed to call attention to just how popular the sport of college football is across the country. The whole list is worth a look if you’re interested in all the little details about the 2017 season but a few of the big highlights are:

  • Ohio State led the nation for total fan attendance, attracting 1,254,160 spectators to all of their games in 2017, including home, away, neutral and postseason tilts. Eleven other teams eclipsed the million mark in 2017: Georgia (1,246,201), Alabama (1,228,376), Auburn, Penn State, Michigan, LSU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Clemson and Texas.
  • Michigan led all FBS schools again with an average attendance of 111,589 fans per home game in 2017. Three other schools also averaged more than 100,000 fans per game: Ohio State (107,495), Penn State (106,707) and Alabama (101,722). The Wolverines have led the nation in home attendance for 41 of the past 43 seasons.
  • The SEC led all FBS conferences in attendance for the 20th straight year, averaging 75,074 fans per game or a total of 7,357,228 in 2017, followed by the Big Ten (66,227), Big 12 (56,852), Pac-12 (49,601) and the ACC (48,442).
  • The overall attendance for NCAA football games across all divisions (FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III) drew 47,622,196 fans at home games, neutral-site games and postseason games in 2017. The number represents a 3.3 percent drop from the 2016 season.

There’s a bunch more in there from the NFF on everything from TV ratings to fan interest and a bunch of other nuggets. Needless to say, college football is pretty popular around the country and we at CFTalk certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew Ward becomes latest Nebraska player to announce plans to transfer

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Everybody figured that Scott Frost’s arrival with a new way of doing things in Lincoln would prompt a few transfers out of the program but the latest name to leave Nebraska is on the defensive side of the ball as linebacker Andrew Ward became the latest name to announce a transfer after just a year with the Cornhuskers.

As Ward mentions in his post, he was originally recruited to the school by the prior coaching staff under Mike Riley. He redshirted as a freshman in 2017 and seemed to fall down the pecking order at his position during spring practice. Originally from Michigan, the linebacker was rated as a three-star coming out of high school according to 247Sports and held offers from Penn State and Virginia Tech among others.

Ward adds to the growing list of roster turnover this offseason for the Cornhuskers. Also on Saturday it was confirmed that center Michael Decker was retiring from football, while wideout Kenyan Williams, fullback Ben Miles, quarterback Patrick O’Brien, and receiver Zack Darlington all announced intentions to leave the program.