03.20.11

Top 25 Colleges With Diehard Fans

With March Madness in full boom, The Daily Beast ranks the fans behind the teams. From Auburn to Army, at these colleges people rabidly support their basketball squads—no matter how squalid.

Duke University’s Cameron Crazies—smothered in blue paint, chanting “air ball” to taunt opposing teams, hunkering down before big games in a tent city called Krzyzewskiville (named for legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski)—epitomize the hard-core college basketball fan. They Crazies have been rewarded with one of the most celebrated programs in March Madness history, not to mention four national championships.

Gallery: Top 25 Most Diehard Colleges

But being a Duke basketball fan is a bit like being a New York Yankees fan: It’s easy (and fun) to root for a winner. What about fans at colleges at less successful basketball programs? Are the students and alumni at, say, the University of Nebraska, more supportive than Duke fans, even though the last time the Cornhuskers appeared in the NCAA Tournament was 1998?

To find out, The Daily Beast started with a list of the 75 schools with the best merchandise sales, using the most recent quarterly data from the Collegiate Licensing Company, which represents 80 percent of the collegiate-wear market. These are schools that clearly support their colors. From these 75 schools, we then looked at average attendance for the 2010-2011 season of men’s and women’s basketball, compared to arena capacity (women’s and men’s basketball teams typically play in the same arena—in the interest of consistency we used the capacity number for the men’s arena for the few schools where women’s basketball is played in a smaller arena.)

To calculate the most enthusiastic college fans in the country, we added each school’s merchandise rank and attendance-to-arena capacity-ratio, and divided that number by each team’s Ratings Percentage Index for the 2010-2011 regular season. RPI score takes into account strength of schedule and win-loss record. The NCAA does not release RPI scores, but several trusted sources calculate RPI—for men’s basketball we used CBS Sports’ RPI scores, and for women’s basketball we used RPI scores from Collegiate Basketball News, which has supplied the Associated Press with RPI scores for more than a decade. The schools with strong merchandise sales and average attendance, despite relatively mediocre basketball performance, are those that made our top 25.

Does your school or alma mater support its basketball teams, even if they are not perennial March Madness powerhouses? Click here to find out.