Was the crowd really that large?

September 26, 2018

Welcome to “Second Guess” Tuesday. This is where caged opinions are set free to roam. Were there really 32,349 fans sitting in Joan C. Edwards Stadium Saturday night? Probably not.

Marshall’s officials likely inflated the attendance figures just like most other athletic officials do every week in college football.

Unfortunately, it has become a way of life. From Alabama to UTEP and from Ohio State to Ohio University, schools habitually fudge their attendance figures. There just wasn’t any proof of it or a measuring stick to see how inflated the figures actually were.

Until now.

All that has changed, thanks to the Wall Street Journal newspaper.

Erstwhile senior writer Rachel Bachman burst the bubble by obtaining detailed data on the 2017 season through public records requests made to public colleges. Most complied with the requests. Here is what it revealed.

The average number of tickets scanned at home games, which is the most accurate barometer for gauging the number of fans who actually are attending the game, is only about 71 percent of the announced attendance.

Betty Crocker doesn’t fudge that much.

What’s worse in smaller FBS leagues such as Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference the scanned attendance figures aren’t anywhere near the 70 percent plateau.

Take, for example, Marshall’s 2018 season-opening game at Miami (Ohio). RedHawks’ official announced attendance figures of 15,827 were clearly inflated. What a surprise.

In the Wall Street Journal’s research, Miami (Ohio) was ranked No. 5 among the top 10 attendance gap leaders. Miami announced 98,666 fans for the 2017 season, but in reality only 35,582 tickets were scanned. That’s only 36.1 percent.

How atrocious. Marshall, at least, didn’t juice their numbers as much as Miami did, but they still were inflated.

MU officials announced 130,447 fans attended games in 2017, yet only 82,831 tickets were scanned. That’s a differential of 47,616 fans, which means only 63.5 percent of Marshall’s announced attendance actually attended the games in Edwards Stadium.

That’s profound. But, again, C-USA wasn’t quite as guilty as the MAC.

Joining Miami (Ohio) among the top 10 gap leaders were No. 6 Akron (117,416 announced fans/43,675 tickets scanned/37.2 percent); and No. 9 Ohio University (116,325 announced fans/47,579 tickets scanned/40.9 percent.

No. 10? Look no further than C-USA. UTEP announced 97,740 fans, but scanned only 45,444 tickets (46.5 percent). Four other C-USA members were in the 50 percentile.

Middle Tennessee was next after UTEP with 93,718 announced fans, but only 50,566 scanned tickets (54.0 percent). Next came Old Dominion (120,708 announced, 68,716 scanned tickets, 56.9 percent); Charlotte (71,420 announced, 41,853 scanned tickets, 58.6 percent); and Louisiana Tech (142,626 announced, 85,246 scanned tickets, 59.8 percent).

Following them were Southern Miss (130,265 announced, 79,913 scanned tickets, 61.3 percent; UAB (158,282 announced, 100,023 scanned tickets, 63.2 percent; Marshall; and UTSA (114,104 announced, 74,385 scanned tickets, 65.2 percent.

Rice, Florida Atlantic, FIU and North Texas weren’t included in the documentation.

That leaves only Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers showed the most integrity in C-USA by scanning 89,635 tickets of their announced 94,234 attendance for 95.1 percent.

West Virginia University also ranked fairly high with 335,678 announced; 255,881 scanned tickets; 76.2 percent.

But no one in college football compares with Navy. The Midshipmen announced 173,780 and scanned 173,780 for 100 percent.

“It is just the way we do business,” Chet Gladchuk, Navy athletic director, was quoted.

He deserves a salute.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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