This just in: college football is really, really popular.
According to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, the sport set a record for attendance in the 2011 season, with a total of nearly 4.7 million fans attending games at all levels of the NCAA. It's the fifth time in six years that an attendance record has been set, and the number of fans attending games has increased by more than 32 percent since 1998. FBS schools had a total attendance of 37.4 million fans, or an average of 46,074 per game.
The Big Ten played a big role in that, not surprisingly. Michigan led the nation in attendance for the 14th straight year, setting a record with an average of 112,179 fans per game at renovated Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines drew the largest crowd in the history of the sport for the first night game ever at the Big House in Week 2, attracting 114,804 spectators.
Five teams averaged more than 100,000 fans per game last season, and three of them -- Michigan, Ohio State (105,231) and Penn State (101,427) -- were from the Big Ten.
Thirteen teams played before a total of at least 1 million fans in 2011, and six of them -- Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State -- were from the Big Ten.
The SEC led the nation in average home attendance at 75,832 per game. The Big Ten was second at 71,439 per game, followed by the Big 12 (63,265), the Pac-12 (52,249) and the ACC (51,406).
And while concerns over bowl attendance are at least part of the driving force behind a potential four-team playoff creation, the 35 bowl games last season still drew an average of 50,435 per game, down slightly from 2010. The best-attended bowl game of the year was the Rose Bowl, which had 91,245 spectators. No surprise there, though, as the Rose Bowl has sold out every year since 1947.