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Fact Check: Did Big House attendance ever fall to 80,000 last year?

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The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece on attendance in college football. A lot seems plausible, but one insinuation about Michigan is simply counter-factual.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Wall Steet Journal’s Rachel Bachman published an article today on an interesting potential attendance issue in college football: the gap between reported numbers and actual scanned tickets.

While reported attendance fell by 7.6 percent from 2016 to 2017, Bachman pointed to large percentage gaps when it came to scanned tickets. This may explain how the athletic department continued to tout the 100,000 attendance streak even through the doldrums of Brady Hoke’s final year.

Bachman, however, points to two games last year where Michigan featured a sizable reported-versus-scanned disparity.

“(Michigan) still claims a streak of 100,000-plus attendance games dating back to 1975,” she writes, “even though two games last year showed fewer than 80,000 scanned tickets.”

Claims possibly insinuates fudging the numbers, so let’s look at the home games last year. If the stadium has sizable gaps by the end of the first quarter — students like to take their time — this assertion should check out.

CINCINNATI — 111,384 IN ATTENDANCE

The camera pans to see most of the stadium, with the obvious blind spot being the student section. So far, absolutely packed. At the 51:11 mark, you see pretty much the rest of those present, and not an empty seat in the Big House.

Checks out.

AIR FORCE — 111,387

Skip to 43:36 for a student section shot midway through the second quarter. A little bit of emptiness in the nosebleeds, but certainly not enough to dip Michigan into the 80,000-range.

Good to go.

MICHIGAN STATE — 112,432

Night game against a rival? No way people skipped this, right? Here’s a shot from our own Josh LaFond.

Also, ESPN’s opening pan. The darkness, in fairness, makes the eye test a touch more unreliable.

Combining the picture evidence with the magnitude of the game, let’s call this three for three on 100,000-plus.

RUTGERS — 111,213

This one’s a close call, folks! Skip to 6:21.

The student section is pretty patchy, with fans stuffing their way towards the front rows. Also, the right corner has a few tiny bald spots.

This is the only shot we get of the whole stadium, and it’s at the 13:21 mark of the first quarter. Student tardiness caveats apply. However, Big Ten Network’s telecast may have refused to shoot towards those seats again for a reason.

Just eyeballing here: that shot shows 80-85 percent of the stadium at capacity. Divide the reported number by the upper end of that range, and the attendance falls to about 95,000. Keep in mind, Bachman quotes the university’s policy on counting spectators.

“Michigan counts the media, stadium workers and marching bands in its announced attendance,” she writes.

Does that account for 5,000 people? Did enough students stumble from their tailgates to close the gap? Based on the available Zupruder film, can’t make that call.

However, no way is the number close to 80,000.

MINNESOTA — 111,090

This takes some aggregation of visual evidence, but the second home night game of the year looks above 100,000.

First, the all important student section shot.

While the top rows are empty, that’s fairly packed for a game almost called due to weather. This isn’t Rutgers territory of fan ambivalence.

Skip to 1:20:50 for a larger stadium shot deep into the second half.

Not a lot of metallic blue and silver seats visible. Certainly not a sell-out, but nowhere near close to below 100,000.

OHIO STATE, 112,028

No chance. It’s The Game, fergodsakes.

If anything, the ever-reliable glut of Buckeye fans ensures 100,000-plus were there.

Here’s another picture by Josh.

Student section filled up to the top rows. Absolutely checks out.

HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSION

This particular exercise valued eye test over numbers, so yes, much of the conclusions have tinges of subjectivity over numbers.

With that said, six of the seven homes games clearly fielded crowds in excess of 100,000. The Rutgers game dipped below, so Bachman looks to have a point. Even the Michigan Athletic Department can find selling fans on watching the Scarlet Knights to be an unenviable task.

Last point, she concedes that, “a Michigan spokesman said surges of fans at gates just before kickoff sometimes prompt workers to tear tickets rather than scanning them.”

Anyone who has rushed towards their seats knows this is accurate.