In the Dawg House

PantherDigest.com senior writer Steve Gephart is back with a new edition of his wildly popular column "In the Dawg House". Steve pontificates on all things connected to college sports and your favorite team, the Pitt Panthers.

The Dawg is Back

It has been a while since the last time I've written a Dawg House, and for that I truly apologize. I have a lot to catch up on in the world of Pitt sports. But I have a very important message to address right away before I do:

Harry Psaros, congratulations to you and your wonderful wife on the birth of your baby boy, Max. You have been absolutely a gentleman towards mentoring me on the zany world of recruiting reporting and it's an honor to write for you and this site. I know all of us who are loyal to Panther Digest wish many years of health and happiness to you and your family.

OK, let's get into it. So much to talk about, so much to catch up on…

Pitt/Penn State should NOT be a Government Affair

Recently there has been some talk about the possibility of getting the government involved in reviving the long standing rivalry between the states two most prestigious college football programs. A column by Joe Starkey published a few weeks back in the Pittsburgh Tribune had me seriously questioning whether outside forces should be brought in to resume this rivalry.

Don't get me wrong, like almost any fan of college football residing in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I would love to see Pitt and Penn State resume a rivalry that lasted the entire 20th century. Not only did the rivalry span 97 games, it was (and still is) widely considered one of the great rivalries in the history of college football. Pitt/Penn State rolls off the common football fans tongue just as easily Oklahoma/Texas or Michigan/Ohio State. Yet of all the great rivalries the modern fan is able to remember, it's the only one not currently being played. Regardless of all the ridiculous reasons for why the game isn't played anymore, it clearly should be.

As much as I would like to see the series resume, I just can't support outside forces being the reason a deal to play again is consummated.

I understand the basis for the argument why the state has a right to get involved. Both Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh receive millions of dollars from the state each year. Some people believe the state's financial commitment to both universities alone is enough reason to force them both to play each other again. Although I can understand why some would come to this conclusion, it is a flawed reasoning. First of all, the commonwealth gets back its investment from the money it sends to both schools every year as thousands of in-state students are able to attend both outstanding universities at drastically discounted tuition prices. Also, both schools provide services to their surrounding communities including countless jobs as well as two fantastic medical institutions, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Penn State's Hershey S. Milton Center and College of Medicine.

More importantly, the idea of asking state government to force the rivalry back on to the field could also set a deadly precedent.

If the state government were to get involved, what would stop them from going further and establishing the conditions of when and how the game is played? Maybe the powerful faction of state congressmen from the middle of the state truly believe that Penn State deserves the right to host more games at their 100,000+ stadium and force Pitt to accept a state sanctioned 2 for 1 home deal over the long run. Perhaps some others are able to prove that Temple has the right to be involved in any deal as well. The Pitt games were some of the more highly attended home games the last few years the Owls were in the Big East, and having PSU visit South Philly will always be an automatic sell out. Getting government involved just brings too many outside influences into the equation.

The beauty of natural rivalries is that both programs relish and look forward to the annual game, no matter how the rest of their season is going. Even if Michigan reeled of 5-10 years of losing seasons while Ohio State remained a top ranked team over the same time, Buckeye fans, students, alumni and the team themselves would still circle the Wolverine game on their calendar at the start of every year. I still believe most of college football fans in Pennsylvania feel that same way about Pitt/Penn State. But even if it is one man (who also happens to be a legendary coach with a chip on his shoulder) holding up the rivalry, that one man has garnered enough respect at his university to hold it up as long as he wants to. Ultimately, if the fans want it enough, it will be them who force the rivalry back out of its semi retirement.

In the end, there is no way that the government should force this rivalry. If it was meant to be, it will happen. But it's up to both universities, and only those two universities to decide if the series is ever resumed. Last thing Pitt needs is a disgruntled opponent on the schedule who resents being forced to play the Panthers, There are enough nationally recognized programs willing to play Pitt on fair and equal terms to ever have to resort to having the government force teams to come to Heinz Field.

Personally, I think Pitt and Penn State should agree to play a two game series in the near future. Play the first one at Penn State and the second at Pitt. If the games are competitive and the fans get back into it like they did during the days the rivalry was an annual event, no man will be able to ignore the desire of the fans to continue one of the best college football rivalries of all time.

Aaron Gray made the right decision

I know…I sound like a homer. Only a die hard Pitt fan could think Aaron Gray made the right decision by withdrawing his name from the NBA draft to play out his senior season at Pitt. I read Joe Starkey's column on it recently and have to disagree with him. And no, I'm not picking on Joe, he's a great writer. I just happen to disagree with him…again.

There was no guarantee that Gray would have been selected in the first round, ensuring a guaranteed multimillion dollar contract. In fact, there were only three centers taken in the entire first round. Patrick O' Bryant was the ninth pick overall by the Warriors; Hilton Armstrong was selected twelfth by the Hornets; and Ukrainian Oleksiy Pecherov was selected nineteenth by the Wizards. O' Bryant and Armstrong were always projected ahead of Gray and it's a toss up to whether Washington would have taken Gray instead of Pecherov since it appears that Pecherov, a sweet shooting big man will probably return to Europe for more seasoning and development before playing in the NBA.

So why should Gray turn down a chance to be the focal point of a national contender next year?

I personally think his mom was right in saying that the NBA will be there next year. Unless Gray is going to shrink 5 inches, the NBA will also continue to value seven footers with skills down in the post. That alone will assure that Gray is again a possible end of the first round draft pick. But let's say the Pitt Center has another all Big East type of a year again. Let's say Pitt wins the Big East conference and tournament and advances into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament with the big guy leading the way. If that happens, Gray will definitely be a lottery pick.

The Dawg understands that he could come back and have a sub par year. He could even get hurt. But how many injuries are really career threatening in basketball today, especially with modern medicine? Even then his size and work ethic will continue to gain him interest and looks from the playoff teams picking at the end of the first round. Some people will point to Chris Taft as someone who stayed a year in college longer than they should have. But he had work ethic questions. If there is one thing no one can criticize Aaron Gray for, it's his work ethic.

So not only can Pitt fans sit back and enjoy the ride of what should be a very special season for the Panthers on the hardwood, so can its star center as well.

Steve Gephart can be reached at gepdawg@verizon.net

In the Dawg House: July 21, 2006

This page © Copyright 2006, Steve Gephart.


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