In the Dawg House: Early Edition

Should the Pitt/Penn State football series resume? PantherDigest.com senior writer Steve Gephart brings you an early edition of In the Dawg House. GepDawg comments on a recent column published on FightOnState.com. Read on!

Memo to Neil Rudel and FightOnState.com: Thanks…but no thanks. We appreciate you thinking of us Pitt fans and the ole rivalry again anyway.

In case you missed it, FightOnState.com contributor Neil Rudel gave his opinion (in a column published recently on the front page the FightonState.com and also on TimesOnline.com) on why and how the Penn State-Pitt football series should be revived and resumed from its current defunct state.

Because of Fight on State's decision to stir up the pot again against Pitt and resuming the rivalry on equal terms by publishing this article on its front page, the Dawg has decided to write a VERY special early edition of the Dawg House. It's a rebuttal to the outlandish assertions and trashing of the current status of the University of Pittsburgh (and really the whole Big East) in Rudel's article.

This nonsense just could not go the whole week unchallenged…especially by this Dawg.

I have NO problem with his rather innocuous reasons for WHY the series should resume. I agree that the recent addition of a 12th regular season game should be used for more than just padding the win column with home games against inferior competition. Both Penn State and Pitt have both been guilty of this the last few years. According to Rudel, the extra game is the perfect opportunity to renew the Pitt/Penn State series again with a long term deal. I also happen to agree with this as well, especially since so many other rivalries have been reborn because of the extra game…so why not one of the most important and regarded rivalries in the history of college football?

But it's HOW the series would be resumed that makes Rudel's article so ridiculous and preposterous. He proposes a ten game series starting in 2010, with the series annually being the start to each team's season. Fine enough. But according to his plans, six of the ten games would be played at Beaver Stadium and the other four at Heinz Field. Since the series would start and end at Beaver Stadium it would feel (according to the author) like an even home and home series.

The defense of this solution and the reasoning for why Pitt fans should accept such a completely uneven deal also happens to be a bona fide example of the arrogant reasoning now adopted by Joe Paterno -and many of the Penn State faithful- for not resuming the series with Pitt on an equal footing.

Rudel declares he's suggesting such a unique & fair scenario. I guess the Dawg is a little confused on how a long term uneven series is really fair or even unique. Paterno has very publicly and arrogantly stood by the same assertion that this is the only way Penn State would resume this series on a long-term basis for some time now. But Rudel takes it one stop further by painting this scenario as one where Penn State is actually making a sacrifice by acquiescing to Pitt's demands for a home/home series…even though his solution is NOT an even home/home series.

Rudel proceeds to label any opposition to his grand plan by Pitt fans as being shortsighted as when Pitt decided to join the Big East without Penn State all those years ago. First of all, I didn't know joining the best basketball conference in the country –then and now- was considered short sighted. I also didn't know that Pitt was required back then to get approval from Penn State and Joe Pa for this rivalry to continue on. That's all news to me. I also don't know what it has to do with continuing an annual series almost 100 years old.

Rudel's other reason for the uneven plan to resume the series is simple: the two programs just aren't the same anymore.

Ok. I would say I agree with this less-than ground breaking proclamation…but again I don't see how it's relevant. According to Rudel, Pitt should be more than thankful that Penn State would even consider resuming the series in the first place. This is mainly because Penn State outdraws Pitt at the turnstiles, is now a member of the mighty Big Ten; and because Penn State's mere presence on future home schedules would increase Pitt ticket sales.

All those above proclamations are indeed true, but so what? None of the above makes me believe Pitt fans should bow and pray to the college football gods that Jeff Long will accept this offer as soon as possible. What does Penn State's home draw or conference affiliation have to with anything regarding this rivalry anyhow?

Rudel even goes into the whole tired theory that (also held by many Penn State posters on the message boards) the main reason for Pitt wanting to resume the series in the first place is that the Panthers would then have a guaranteed sell out on the schedule every other year. It also goes without saying that many Nittany Lion fans feel that only Pitt would benefit from an even home and home series since Beaver Stadium will be sold out no matter who the Lions play.

Again, makes no sense to this Dawg. At present there are many other options to have on the schedule if the Panthers truly "needed" to have sell-out games on the schedule. If you don't believe me, just read on. Pitt already has a long term home and home series with Notre Dame set to start up again in 2008. Pitt could easily arrange a future series against the likes of Michigan, OSU or any other fairly geographically large state school with a huge following if they desperately needed future guaranteed sell-outs. It's not really that hard for Pitt to set arrangements like this in the near future. In fact, the Panthers already have upcoming series scheduled against both Michigan State and Iowa anyway.

Pitt simply does not need Penn State on the schedule to have a home sellout and return visitors pay day out against a large Big Ten opponent. Pitt has played most of the schools in the conference in the past and Jeff Long has enough relationships from his days there as an executive to make sure the Panthers always have a few of those guaranteed sell outs on their home schedule.

So I also don't see the validity behind Rudel's assertion that Pitt's only chances of selling out Heinz Field in the near is by playing either Penn State, Notre Dame, and maybe (?) West Virginia. He even implores any doubting reader to "look it up" as if past history will prove his point. I decided to take his advice, and I did "look it up." What I found was that he himself must have missed the fact that Pitt was also able to sell out games at Heinz Field against the likes of Virginia Tech and Miami since moving to the North Shore stadium. I also didn't notice one single sell out against Penn State since the Panthers moved to their new home. Somehow the Panthers have thrived and even had some sell outs since them…unbelievable I guess. So thanks for the suggestion to look it up, Neil. Your advice certainly helped the Dawg prove my point even further.

Even more laughable is Rudel's ridiculous (and unnecessary) criticism of the current Big East make up. He might be the only person in the country today that believes the current Big East basketball alignment is "overcooked." I'm sure he will still feel this way when the Big East sends 8-9 teams to the NCAA tournament this year, including the likes Cincinnati and Marquette - considering he doesn't even feel the Golden Eagles have any business being in the Big East in the first place.

And according to Rudel, somehow the football conference is "undercooked" at the same time. According to him, there are no other decent draws in conference play after West Virginia and Syracuse. UCONN has already established itself as a future player in major college football, and Rutgers just played one of the most exciting games of the most recent bowl season. How about Louisville? Has he even been following football the last three years to see they've been a national player? Sure there will be fluctuations on who is good from year to year as the new conference grows. The Big Ten has been around for years, and after Ohio State and Michigan, there are still fluctuations. Penn State's recent history is truly the most convincing evidence anyone needs for those who would disagree with this last statement.

You can look it up….

History and tradition also demand this game is played at a neutral site or that it rotates annually between Beaver Stadium and Heinz Field. The only reason so many earlier games were played in Pittsburgh was because Penn State wanted it that way. It boosted the Nittany Lions' recruiting efforts in Western Pennsylvania, and because for years Beaver Stadium was not even big enough to host a high school football game let alone a major college football rivalry.

These are two slightly important points Rudel conveniently forgot to mention in his rationalization that Penn State should have more home games to make up for the unfair balance in the past. Pitt's program today may not be the huge Frankenstein monster of a program Joe Paterno has built up carefully in Happy Valley over the years. But it's certainly not at the level that Penn State football was before the Rip Engle/Joe Paterno resurgence in the early 1960's.

There is no question that Pitt would NOT have ended the rivalry if Penn State had demanded home games earlier than they did. They certainly didn't end it when Paterno finally asked for it.

Therefore, I will try and spell out the TRUE reality for many of the obnoxious Penn State fans, alumni, and apparently beat writers now who feel that resuming this series is doing Pitt football and its fans a HUGE favor. Please read this next sentence and try to fully comprehend its succinct and precise message:

Pitt football does NOT need Penn State on the schedule to be a successful program anymore. The game has no more benefit to the University of Pittsburgh than it does to the University of Penn State (I know, I'm just following in the footsteps of Penn State's many high profile recruits the last few years.)

Pitt's administration, athletic department, and most importantly, its head coach simply would like to renew the series because rivalries are an important part of college football. This in particular would be great for the alumni and fans of both schools. That is the ONE and ONLY reason Pitt would like to see the rivalry reinstated and on an equal home game rotation. The Panthers should NOT have to agree to an uneven series with Penn State (or any other opponent) for any reason ever. And their fans would certainly NEVER accept it if the athletic department did. I know this Dawg wouldn't.

The fact is, Pitt and its fans (and I'm sure many PSU fans as well) want the rivalry back for tradition and because it's good for both schools. It's also good for local recruiting. During the hey-day of this rivalry in the late 70's and early 80's both teams were able to recruit extensively all over the state. That is not the case anymore. Sure Penn State has plucked some star recruits from the WPIAL the last few years under Walt Harris. If any Penn State fan thinks this will continue unabated now that Dave Wannstedt runs the show at Pitt, they are clearly delusional and only fooling themselves.

And more importantly, an even long term agreement to continue the rivalry is good for the state. Although Pitt and Penn State have alumni around the nation (and even the world) I would suspect most still live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Should they and all the fans of both programs be able to see the best two football programs tee it up every year? Why should false economic arguments or petty grudges give either of the schools the unfair advantage of having more home games?

Pitt football will never have 100,000+ fans attend a home game. They will probably never be in the Big Ten. They will certainly never be a large rural state run university. But they will always be a very successful program in a BCS conference that will continue to be relevant on the national scene.

And they certainly have proven in the five years since the last Pitt/Penn State game that they don't need the Nittany Lions on their schedule to win football games, go to bowl games, play on national television, and sell out home games and to have nationally ranked recruiting classes.

Nothing beats a rivalry game. It defines the whole season. Just ask Michigan and Ohio State fans. It's a shame that so many of the weak excuses given out by Joe Paterno and the Penn State athletic department are recited as gospel by Nittany Lion fans and writers without any consideration of their validity. It was a great rivalry that I remember dearly as a kid growing up in Philadelphia. Many in my family attended Penn State so I naturally rooted for them back then. Having graduated Pitt since then I've been able to enjoy the series from both sides for what it…a true AND equal rivalry.

It's a shame so many Penn State fans and writers refuse to respect the rivalry for what it should be as well. I expect the pettiness from Paterno and many of his loyal fans. But for a recognized writer who is supposed to at least present a credible argument for his assertions against the series coming back the way it was before the early demise is just flat out inexcusable.

Unfortunately, I have to say good bye to Andy Katz, sorry for the brief Dawg House visit. And congratulations are definitely in order for Neil Rudel and FightOnState.com…Never before has two new occupants been worthy to be selected so early in the week.

But you both have definitely distinguished yourselves more than enough to earn some considerable time…IN the DAWG HOUSE!


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