Set Aside No. 12 For an Old Rival

FOS contributor Neil Rudel argues that with an extra game, the time is right to renew the Penn State-Pitt series. All it will take is a little creative thinking and administrators on both sides swallowing a bit of their pride.

With the conclusion of the college football recruiting season, let’s shift to another phase of the game — scheduling. There is one advantage to the NCAA’s ridiculous addition of a 12th regular-season game. It should allow the Division I heavyweights some needed flexibility to do more than rent another win against an outmanned opponent.

Which gets us to Penn State vs. Pitt. It’s well past time to revisit the subject of renewing the series on an annual basis.

Some history: In the early 1980s, Pitt turned its back on a PSU-led Eastern all-sports conference and joined the Big East. Even before that, Penn State discussed the possibility of joining the Big East with the league’s then-commissioner, Dave Gavitt, and was voted down — though Joe Paterno has long maintained Penn State was only ever interested in an all-sports conference, something the Big East was not at that time.

Paterno never forgave Pitt, and the teams stopped their annual series in 1992. It renewed for four years from 1997-2000, but there’s been little momentum since to play every year.

Pitt is interested, but only on a home-and-home basis. Penn State cites financial concerns for its 29 varsity sports — Pitt only has 14; surprisingly, St. Francis (Pa.) has 21 — and has balked.

Here’s a compromise: Pitt should offer to play Penn State 10 times as the season opener, beginning in 2010 with six games at Beaver Stadium and four at Heinz Field. The renewal of the series can start at University Park and end there in 2019, and it will seem like a home-and-home.

The Pitt fans, no doubt, will scream not to do it, but that will be as shortsighted as joining the Big East without Penn State 20 years ago.

The fact is these two programs aren’t the same anymore.

Pitt is now in the Big East, which is overcooked in basketball (Marquette and DePaul have no business there) and undercooked in football (the Panthers need better draws beyond West Virginia and Syracuse).

Penn State’s in the Big Ten, playing Ohio State and Michigan and Wisconsin, and next year Notre Dame in a non-conference game.

Pitt averaged 40,272 — or 25,000 short of capacity — last year. That ranked 56th in the country. Penn State, without Pitt on the schedule, averaged 104,859 per home game, fourth in the country.

Penn State can still draw close to 100,000 for Akron. Pitt can sell out Heinz Field for three opponents — Penn State, Notre Dame and maybe West Virginia. You can look it up.

Pitt just added Virginia and Michigan State. They’ll draw the 40,000 or so that the Panthers have pulled lately for Nebraska and Syracuse.

Penn State and Pitt is a made-for-TV season opener, and the Lions’ presence would boost Pitt’s season-ticket sales.

Losing one home date to Penn State in 10 years shouldn’t be a huge compromise for Pitt.

Of the 96 games played in the series, 66 were played at Pitt and five of the seven games at a neutral site — not including the two played in Bellefonte in 1900 and ’01 — were played at either Forbes Field or Three Rivers Stadium.

College football historian and former Pitt sports information director Beano Cook, one of the few who would know, always insists those arrangements were agreeable to Penn State because Pitt Stadium seated more than Beaver Field, and revenue was shared.

While that’s true, the shoe is now on the other foot — which is why beginning in 2010, a 6-4 deal would be a fair way to annually resume a series that should never have been interrupted.

What better way is there for these two teams to use their 12th game?

Vote on this issue in our FOS poll.

(Neil Rudel covers Penn State football for the Altoona Mirror).

PSU-Pitt History

All-time record: Penn State leads, 50-42-4

Games at PSU: 23 (PSU leads, 17-6)

Games at Pitt: 66 (Pitt leads, 34-28-4)

Neutral-site games: 7 (Penn State leads, 5-2)

Last meeting: Pitt won, 12-0, at Three Rivers Stadium in 2000.

Next meeting: None scheduled.

Notable: The series went long stretches when the games were only played in Pittsburgh. Those stretches included 1903-30, 1943-54, 1956-63 and 1965-73. Only from 1980 through 1992 was the series played on a home-and-home basis.


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