- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten is among the major conferences that had a decline in overall attendance in 2012, as the league posted its lowest average attendance (70,387) since the 2008 season (70,125).
A look at the team-by-team attendance figures reveals a fairly murky situation after a rough season on the field.
The Big Ten occupied the top two spots in the FBS in average attendance -- Michigan led at 112,252 with Ohio State next at 105,330. Although Penn State saw a drop in average home attendance from 101,427 in 2011 to 96,730 this season, PSU still ranked fifth nationally in average attendance. The Big Ten occupies six of the top 20 spots on the FBS attendance average chart, the second most behind the SEC's eight. The SEC led the nation in highest attendance average by conference (75,444), but it had its lowest average since 2007.
A big reason for the national trend is the number of FCS games on the schedule. The fewer of these we see, the better the numbers will be.
Here's a closer look at the figures:
Number of 2012 home games: 8 (Ohio State); 7 (Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern); 6 (Michigan, Indiana)
The differentials for Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa are basically a wash. It's somewhat notable Iowa maintained its attendance average despite its worst season in more than a decade, but those who have followed Hawkeye football shouldn't be surprised, either.
Penn State's decline is notable, but many expected a drop-off after the tumultuous summer and with so much uncertainty about the new regime and the direction of the program. A bigger concern is the long-term trend for Penn State, which has seen attendance drop in each of the past five seasons.
Two other programs that have season extended declines are Illinois and Purdue. Illinois really seems to be in trouble, attendance wise, recording its lowest average since the 2006 season (43,445), when the team also went 2-10. Attendance has dropped every year since 2008.
Purdue saw an attendance drop for the fifth straight season, a trend that played a role in the decision to dismiss head coach Danny Hope. Purdue also slipped behind rival Indiana in attendance average, which can't be sitting well in Boiler Country.
Should Minnesota be a little worried? The Gophers doubled their wins total in Year 2 under Jerry Kill and yet saw a drop in attendance for the fourth consecutive season (TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009).
Michigan State saw a nice increase in average attendance, spurred by last year's 11-2 record and a very attractive home schedule (Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska). The Spartans likely will need a better showing on the field to maintain or increase the attendance in 2013.
Indiana and Northwestern continue to see nice increases in attendance. Both programs undoubtedly benefited from opposing fans (Ohio State for Indiana, Nebraska for Northwestern), but the pattern for both seems to be positive.