On Wednesday, Aug. 14, the NCAA released attendance figures from the 2012-13 college basketball season. It should come as no surprise that Kentucky, Syracuse, Louisville, North Carolina and Indiana comprised the top five in average home attendance last season.
What may come as a surprise is which school had the highest average home attendance of all the teams in the western U.S.
That would be BYU with an average of 15,986 fans per home game, giving the Cougars the 13th-best home attendance average in the nation.
If you can't recall much of BYU last season, it's probably because the Cougars didn't exactly grab national headlines. They finished third in the West Coast Conference and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006, although the team did wind up making it to the semifinals of the NIT.
So, how did a third-place team from a small conference which failed to make the NCAA tournament rank in the top 15 in average home attendance? Surely, that must be a fluke.
Except it's not.
By looking at attendance averages and on-court results over the last five seasons, we see that BYU's appearance in the top-15 nationally is no outlier and is part of an overall pattern of high attendance at the school.
BYU has finished in the top-25 nationally for average home game attendance in each of the past five seasons. The lowest the Cougars finished in the attendance rankings during that time was the 2008-2009 season, when they were 24th nationally with an average of 13,383 fans per home game.
That same season, the Cougars were co-champions of the Mountain West Conference, along with New Mexico and Utah. The Cougars went 25-8 overall, bowing out in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Texas A&M in Philadelphia.
That success resulted in an increase in BYU attendance the following season. The Cougars finished 17th nationally in average home attendance in 2009-10, averaging 14,029 fans for an increase of about 650 fans per game over the previous season.
Will BYU be in the top 10 nationally in average home game attendance this upcoming season?
In the 2009-10 season, the Cougars were second in the Mountain West behind New Mexico with an overall record of 30-6, as they finished the regular season at No. 17 in the AP poll. The Cougars posted their first NCAA tournament win since 1993 with a thrilling double-overtime win over Florida in the first round, before losing to Kansas State in the second round.
That set up BYU for monumental success in 2010-11 , both in the stands and on the court. Fueled by Jimmermania, the Cougars' home attendance average swelled to 18,714, an increase of 4,685 per game, to give BYU the NCAA's highest average home attendance increase from the previous season. BYU finished sixth nationally in home attendance that season, averaging just over 200 fans fewer than fifth-place Tennessee.
BYU split the Mountain West title with San Diego State that season, as star point guard Jimmer Fredette was named the NCAA Player of the Year in NCAA men's basketball. The Cougars ranked 10th in the final regular season AP poll before going on a run in the NCAA tournament. The Cougars defeated Wofford in the first round and blew out Gonzaga by 22 points in the second round before losing in overtime to Florida in the Sweet 16.
The graduation of Jimmer and the school's all-time steals leader, Jackson Emery, inevitably led to a downturn in the 2011-12 season, but the Cougars remained high in the average attendance rankings, finishing 12th at home with 15,424 fans per game.
Despite a third-place finish in their new West Coast Conference, the Cougars made the NCAA tournament with a regular season record of 25-8. The Cougars mounted the largest comeback ever in an NCAA tournament game to beat Iona in their First Four matchup before losing to Marquette in the next round.
That brings us to last season. Despite missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 and failing to reach 25 wins for the first time in seven seasons, the Cougars still saw an increase in attendance. BYU averaged 15,986 fans at home, an increase of over 500 fans per game from 2011-12.
Last season's attendance low for BYU came early in the season against Georgia State, when 13,181 fans showed up to the Marriott Center to watch the Cougars throttle the Panthers. Despite mounting losses, the team continued to draw fans, including 17,342 against Northern Arizona just two days after Christmas when most students were at home.
Even after BYU's disheartening loss to San Francisco at home on Feb. 9, attendance actually increased for the next home game. One week after being defeated by the Dons, 17,009 fans turned out to watch Dave Rose's squad beat Portland for an increase of over 1,500 fans.
Suffice it to say, it appears that BYU's time in the top-15 of the national average attendance rankings is unlikely to come to an end anytime soon. After bringing in a highly touted recruiting class, the Cougars are likely to see another increase in attendance this season.
The BYU Cougars are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to drawing fans, so don't be surprised by their top-15 attendance ranking this season. It's hardly a fluke.