Explaining 2009-10's attendance numbers

Typically, attendance numbers are pretty easy to put in perspective. Attendance was either up or down; either more people came to the games, or fewer did. Um, not so much. Because college basketball's 2009-10 attendance figures are out, and no one can decide whether the numbers are good or bad.

Why the confusion? It's a question of total attendance versus average individual attendance at each school. The total number -- everyone in the country who bought a ticket for a college basketball game in 2009-10 -- is more than 27 million. It's a staggering figure when you think about it. It's also the fourth-highest tally in college basketball history, an impressive feat given the lingering economic woes faced by many Americans (and many basketball programs) throughout the season.

That's just a raw overall number, though. The bad news is that college basketball crowds got smaller by an average of 147 spectators per game, a decrease of three percent. Over the last two years, average attendance has been steadily dipping, including for NCAA tournament games, and 2009-10's average attendance was at its lowest point since 1987.

These numbers -- one positive, one negative -- are reconciled in the increase of Division I schools being measured by the NCAA's attendance figure. More schools means more fans buying more tickets for more seats, which is the case here. But it doesn't mean larger average crowds. Instead, what's happening is that new Division I hoops members -- there are now 347 -- play games in smaller arenas with less fan interest and fewer tickets to sell.

In other words, if you're the type of person that takes NCAA college basketball attendance numbers to heart (I don't know too many of these people, but it's best to be sensitive in times like these), don't get too freaked out. Lots of people are still watching college hoops. They just happen to be a little more spread out than before. Surely the NCAA would like to get that average attendance back up to 2007-08 levels, but for now, there's not a lot to worry about.