Michigan Stadium at the beginning of Michigan-Rutgers in 2017. Announced attendance was 111,213, nearly 4,000 over capacity.
Photo: Tony Ding (AP)

Official attendance numbers—at any sporting event—are almost always lies, at least in the sense that they rarely represent the actual number of fans who both paid for a ticket and showed up to the game. We know that instinctively; it’s not a shocking revelation to see it proved as fact. But thanks to The Wall Street Journal, we can now see just how hilariously vast the gap between real and bullshit attendance counts can be in D-I college football.

The WSJ sent records requests to “nearly 100” public universities with football programs to uncover the actual count of scanned tickets from last year’s football season, then compared those responses with the “official” juiced numbers. With the exception of Navy, every school who reported back exaggerated their paid attendance at least a little bit. The most egregious offender found, by percentage, was Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers played six games in the newly renovated 15,000-capacity Brooks Stadium in 2017, but only scanned a full-season total of 15,248 tickets last season despite announcing an official season attendance of 89,754.

But plenty of A-list programs were caught in some pretty bold inflation scams, too, and could only muster the lamest of excuses when confronted on it. Florida State’s scanned attendance was only 57 percent of its official attendance in 2017, but the Seminoles blustered their way into fake-newsing their own figures. From the Journal:

FSU spokesman Rob Wilson blamed personnel and technical issues in scanning tickets and said, “We do not believe the difference is as large as the data appears to show.”

(Rob) Sine, the ticketing expert who’s now chief revenue officer at ticketing company AXS, said technology has improved to the point that scanning errors generally have a minor effect on ticket counts.

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Interestingly, Purdue’s official attendance took the highest jump in the country last season, up 13,433 fans per game, but the school said they couldn’t report the scanned figures to the Journal because of “outdated equipment, connectivity problems and user error.”

And at Michigan, where the Wolverines hold claim to a streak of 100,000-plus attendance in every game since 1975, attendance stats showed two games in 2017 where scanned tickets dipped below 80,000. Don’t worry, there’s a wonderful explanation for that discrepancy:

A Michigan spokesman said surges of fans at gates just before kickoff sometimes prompt workers to tear tickets rather than scanning them. Michigan counts the media, stadium workers and marching bands in its announced attendance.

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On one level, this bald-faced fudging is all just a goofy way for schools to desperately try and look better than each other. But at the same time, phony attendance figures are also another small piece of the rickety structure that holds up the college sports scam. At Arkansas, which stumbled its way through a 4-8 season last year, scanned attendance was 58 percent of its announced figures. No matter, the Razorbacks’ football stadium is reopening this season with an increased capacity of 4,000 following a $160 million renovation project.

So does any of this juicing have any impact for the programs themselves? HAHAHAHA of course it doesn’t. The NCAA supposedly requires a 15,000 “actual or paid” two-year average attendance to stay in D-I, but even that threat appears to be completely toothless. According to the WSJ, “The NCAA accepts the announced attendance numbers schools submit ‘at face value.’”

[Wall Street Journal]