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Women’s basketball attendance sets all-time high

By Gary Johnson

A record number of people attended NCAA women’s basketball games during the 2011-12 season. Attendance for all three NCAA divisions was 11,210,832, breaking the record of 11,160,293 set in 2008-09.

Overall attendance surpassed the 11 million mark for the fifth straight year as record highs were achieved in Divisions I and III for the second consecutive season.

Division I attendance led the way in 2011-12 with an all-time high of 8,177,111, which eclipsed the previous DI mark of 8,127,941 in 2010-11. Division III’s record mark came in at 1,210,080. Division II added 1,729,849 fans to the 2011-12 total.

A record 336 Division I teams averaged 1,634 fans in 5,004 games or sessions this season. That’s down just eight fans per game from 2010-11 and slightly below the record of 1,693 fans a game set in 2007-08.

As for school totals, Tennessee led the nation in home attendance for the ninth straight year and for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons. The Lady Vols attracted 14,414 fans per game to watch Pat Summitt in her final year. Tennessee’s head coach since the 1974-75 season was named head coach emeritus this spring. She retires as the all-time leader in women’s basketball victories with 1,098.

Louisville took the runner-up spot at 10,670, followed by Iowa State (9,805) and Connecticut (9,168). Either Tennessee or Connecticut has led the nation every year since 1995. This past season, Tennessee was the only school to top 200,000 total fans (216,206).

For all-game attendance – including home, road and neutral-site games – Tennessee was also tops as 355,498 fans watched the Lady Vols over 36 games. Baylor (339,404) and Connecticut (307,695) were the only other teams to draw more than 300,000. Six teams (Notre Dame, Iowa State, Louisville, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Purdue) topped the 200,000 mark.

The Big 12 Conference led all leagues with 959,993 fans in 2011-12, but the conference couldn’t top its record-setting season of 1,091,289 fans in 2009-10. The Big 12 led the nation for the 13th consecutive year in conference attendance. The league’s 10 teams averaged 5,304 per game, falling just short of the conference’s own national record of 5,381 in 2003-04.

After the Big 12, the Big Ten (4,128), Southeastern (3,940), Big East (3,207) and Atlantic Coast (2,605) rounded out the top five in per-game averages. The Colonial, Southwestern, West Coast, Atlantic Sun, Mid-Eastern, Southland, Southern and Big South set league bests in total attendance. The SWAC, WCC and A-Sun also set highs for average per game.

Other highlights

  • Tennessee led all teams in the largest improvement in attendance from the previous season. The Lady Vols averaged 14,414 fans per home game, 1,814 more per game than in 2010-11.
  • The Division I championship tournament drew 203,788 spectators for an average of 4,852 fans per session over 42 sessions (first and second rounds, regionals and the Final Four). The all-time tournament session average of 7,966 was set in 2003.
  • The Division II tournament attracted 32,325 fans and averaged 898 fans a game over 36 sessions. The Division III tournament drew 31,693 fans for an average of 755 in 42 sessions.
  • In Division II, Northern State captured the attendance title for the fifth straight season, averaging 2,681 fans per game. Next was Emporia State at 2,233, followed by Washburn (2,227) and Augustana (S.D.) (1,805).
  • In Division III, Hope ran away with its fourth straight attendance title by averaging 1,343 fans per game. After Hope were George Fox (938), Wisconsin-Eau Claire (711), Illinois Wesleyan and Calvin (664), and Mary Washington (663).
  • For Division II conferences, the 11 teams of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association recorded a fourth straight attendance title by averaging 1,282 fans per game. In Division III, the nine teams of the Iowa Intercollegiate earned the league’s 10th title all-time at 406 fans per contest.