Attendance boosted by new venues

Jim Martinho

The advice heard in the cornfields of the Midwest apparently applies both to magical baseball parks and Big Ten football stadiums: If you build it, they will come.

Boosted by the recent expansions of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium and Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium, the conference boasts three of the nation’s top four teams in average attendance. Michigan leads the country with an average of 109,694 fans per game, and is followed closely by the Nittany Lions (third at 106,504 fans per game) and the Buckeyes (fourth at 101,868).

“It’s a tremendous plus for us and everyone in the league,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. “It is nice to know that even when we’re playing an early non-conference game, we still all seem to fill our stadiums.”

Wolverines head coach Lloyd Carr credited the fans in the Midwest for the outstanding attendance.

“I think people in the Midwest truly love football and support it and care about it and they’re very loyal to the institutions they support,” Carr said.

In addition to the top three, five more Big Ten teams are ranked among the nation’s top 35 in attendance. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois and Purdue all average over 52,000 fans per game. When conference play began Saturday, four out of five games sold out, with an average attendance of 82,540.

“Being in the Midwest, football is closely followed with the kind of media exposure we get and the style of ball you see in the Big Ten,” Williams said. “I think there are some great players that the fans want to see.”

THIRSTY THURSDAYS: At least one Big Ten coach, Minnesota’s Glen Mason, isn’t completely satisfied with his team’s stadium situation. The Golden Gophers will be forced to play their next two games, against Illinois and Northwestern, on Thursday nights due to conflicts with the Minnesota Twins baseball playoffs at the Metrodome.

Mason said in a normal week he usually gives players Monday off, but the limited amount of practice time before the game forced him to schedule a practice from 5:30-7 a.m. on Monday.

“I just think it emphasizes the need to run your own business,” Mason said.

Fighting Illini head coach Ron Turner, who had to prepare for Thursday games several times as an assistant for the Chicago Bears, downplayed the effects of the short week.

“The quick turnaround doesn’t bother me too much,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do it every week and have guys miss class and get out of routine, but once in a while it’s OK. It gives us an opportunity to put a loss behind us. Sometimes it’s a boost because players know they have to get focused in a hurry.”

Turner said the struggling Illini defense will have to step up to stop the balanced Gopher offense.

“We’ve played well at times but just not consistently,” Turner said. “We’re not going a good job on third down or in getting turnovers.”

HEY, REF: Penn State head coach Joe Paterno angrily chased down an official after the No. 20 Nittany Lions’ 42-35 loss to Iowa on Saturday.

Paterno was infuriated by two late calls that went against Penn State in the endzone.

“I was running off the field at the referee and I was trying to get a hold of him and all I did was put my hand on his shoulder and tell him they had a couple bad calls, not even his calls,” Paterno said.

Big Ten officials did not punish Paterno for the incident.

“I think maybe if some others of us did anything like that we’d be open to a lot more criticism,” said Mason, who also said following the NFL’s lead in instituting instant replay would help officials make close calls.