EDITORIAL: Sadly, for Pennsylvania football fans, Penn State-Pitt rivalry headed for limbo
At about 4 p.m. Saturday, a glorious gridiron era will come to a close.
Starting at noon Saturday at Beaver Stadium, Penn State and Pitt will clash on the football field for the 100th time. A few hours later, it will be over, and at the moment, there are no plans for a 101st meeting.
For folks in this football-mad state, that’s truly a shame.
For decades, the Penn State-Pitt game was one that both fan bases cherished. They would circle the date on their calendars months in advance. It was a must-see Pennsylvania football event, either in person or on television.
In fact, from the mid-1970s through early 1980s, it was arguably the best, most intense rivalry in all of college football.
After Saturday, however, it will become a mere historical footnote.
Yes, the series could still be resumed at some point in the future, but the chances of another meeting anytime soon seems remote.
How did we get here?
Move to Big Ten helped end rivalry: It’s clear that Penn State’s entry into the Big Ten Conference in 1993 was the major culprit in the series’ demise. Since that year, the two teams have only met intermittently.
Once Penn State was committed to playing eight or nine Big Ten games each season, it became more difficult to find a spot for Pitt on the Nittany Lions’ nonconference schedule.
These days, Penn State has just three nonconference slots each season, and school officials insist that for financial reasons at least two of those games must be played at Beaver Stadium. In fact, this season, all three of PSU’s nonconference games are at home.
Many of PSU’s nonconference foes agree to play at Beaver Stadium without a return trip to their home field. That is the case with PSU’s first two foes in 2019 — Idaho and Buffalo. Pitt, however, would never agree to such an unequal scenario. For every trip the Panthers make to Beaver Stadium, they insist that the Lions travel to Pittsburgh.
Logistics get in way: For PSU officials, that makes it logistically difficult to play the Panthers on a consistent basis. The Nittany Lions, you see, want to play various nonconference foes from across the nation. Head coach James Franklin uses those games as recruiting opportunities. Those games also help to promote the PSU brand beyond Pennsylvania.
The PSU-Pitt rivalry obviously quickens the blood for Pennsylvania football fans, but it no longer captures a ton of national attention.
PSU doesn't feel it needs Pitt: So, in the final analysis, the football folks in Happy Valley no longer feel like they need the Pitt series. In fact, some at PSU believe that playing Pitt offers no real benefits. If Penn State wins … well the Lions were expected to win. They are 29-13 vs. Pitt in the last 42 meetings and this year the Lions are a 17-point favorite. If PSU loses, however, it’s a disaster for the program, and it also gives Pitt a much-needed boost in their Pennsylvania recruiting wars with the Lions.
There’s no denying that Pitt would like to continue the series, at least on an occasional basis. When PSU visits Pitt, the Panthers’ home crowds swell markedly. PSU, however, can attract more than 100,000 fans to Beaver Stadium whether they play Pitt or Idaho.
Renewal unlikely anytime soon: Given that backdrop, it’s difficult to see PSU officials renewing the rivalry anytime soon. They just don’t see it being in the football program’s best interests.
The real loser in this saga, however, are Pennsylvania football fans. They are being denied a great rivalry with great tradition.
The only way things may change will be if fans for both teams come together and pressure officials from both schools, and maybe state legislators, to renew the storied rivalry.
Otherwise, the PSU-Pitt series may be relegated to the dustbin of college football history.