BY JEREMY HOECK
There were no real surprises in the basketball attendance figures released Monday by the NCAA, but those numbers – total and average home attendance – will likely rise on the men’s side because of new facilities across the conference.
By this time next year, four Summit League schools – University of South Dakota, North Dakota State, Omaha and IUPUI – will be playing in new arenas. And that’s good news for those schools.
According to the NCAA figures, Oral Roberts led the Summit League with an average home attendance of 3,458 last season. Then comes South Dakota State (2,993), North Dakota State (2,512), Denver (1,963) and South Dakota (1,745) in the top five.
The interesting thing to note on the men’s side is that it’s much harder to lure in a ‘big name’ opponent to your gym, so what Oral Roberts attracts down in Tulsa is impressive. That’s a lot of butts in seats.
South Dakota State averaging nearly 3,000 fans is far from shocking; the Jackrabbit men and women have a tremendous following up at Frost Arena – which is a fantastic place to watch a basketball game; very intimate; the fans are right there near the court.
North Dakota State, meanwhile, will only climb the attendance ladder once the Bison move into the Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex in time for the 2016-17 season.
That’s also the same season USD will move into its new (unnamed as of yet) 6,000-seat arena next to the DakotaDome. The fact that the Coyotes ranked fifth with nearly 1,800 fans a game is alone an impressive feat.
One highlight of Monday’s attendance figures was IUPUI’s 59 percent rise in men’s basketball attendance, thanks to the Jaguars playing in a new arena (Indiana Farmers Coliseum). IUPUI jumped from an average of 615 fans to 1,527 last season – a rise that ranked 30th among Division I schools.
If USD sees a similar increase, the Coyotes would jump from 1,745 fans to around 2,800 – potentially more. It wouldn’t surprise me if USD averages in the neighborhood of 3,500 that first season in the new arena, but it would most likely settle into the 3,000 range.
The Summit League Tournament, which was held for the first time at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, came in at No. 9 among 30 Division I tournaments. And among 22 mid-major leagues, the Summit League was second for highest average attendance.
On the women’s side, Monday’s NCAA figures show what many of us already know: South Dakota and South Dakota State rule the Summit League.
South Dakota State ranked first in the league with an average of 2,101 fans per home game, while USD came in second at 1,568. From there, the list drops off: Oral Roberts was second at 875, and Omaha was last with an eye-opening 190 fans.
Much like the men, the USD women will see a significant rise in the new arena, partly because the Coyotes will be able to lure in some high major schools.