15 June 2011
Almost 24 hours later and it's still hard to believe. What was once unthinkable is a reality. What was once one of the most divisive issues is Western Pennsylvania is... er, still pretty divisive. The rivalry is back on.
No matter how much those in the ivory towers tout the cooperation between the state's biggest schools, Pitt and Penn State officials should be ashamed of their failure to play in the past decade and for playing only six times since 1991.
Instead, Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg's statement praised how the renewal of the football rivalry is "consistent with that broader relationship, is good for both universities, will be welcomed by college football fans around the country, and presents another important opportunity to showcase Pennsylvania, the home state that we proudly share."
Again, what took so long?
Surprisingly, it was pretty easy to reignite: the initial call from Penn State to Pitt occurred less than a week ago (ESPN has a fuller run-down of how it happened). Yes, it's only two games - and PSU AD Tim Curtley said that's probably it - I don't think that's any less reason to be glad the rivalry is back. As I said before, if Pitt and Penn State played annually, Pitt would have a pretty set schedule once the Big East expands to nine teams in 2012: Warm-up FCS, warm-up MAC game, Notre Dame, Penn State, Big East. Sure that sounds great now, but wouldn't some diversity be nice? A one-and-one with Virginia Tech starts in 2013 and I'm glad Pitt gets to schedule other teams. I'm opposed playing Penn State every year - barring conference realignment - but I'd welcome a one-and-one every four or six years.
Gorman has a pretty interesting quote from Lou Prado, who apparently is at least somewhat of a big deal in the Penn State universe:
"The modern-day fan from central Pennsylvania to eastern Pennsylvania, they don't care about the Pitt-Penn State series," said Penn State author and historian Lou Prato, who then took a sarcastic shot: "If they are only going to play twice in 16 years, oh, that is really going to be a great rivalry."
What's lost in this train of thought is that, in terms of rivalries, Penn State needs Pitt more than Pitt needs Penn State. The Panthers have an archrival in West Virginia; Penn State has yet to find one to replace Pitt as its year-end combatant.
Among Penn State fans, there seems to be a pretty clear divide: Western PA fans generally like it, but the further east you get, the less enthusiasm there is. As I've said before, my theory about the different levels of enthusiasm comes down to how many opportunities for "big games" each team has. The Big 10 affords Penn State a lot of what we would consider "big games." The Big East? Eh, not so much. It doesn't matter how good South Florida is or how bad Michigan is, Michigan is always a "big game" while South Florida could probably only generate up to a certain level of buzz in Pittsburgh, no matter their talent or rank. That's college football; it is what it is. Penn State does not need Pitt more and Pitt does not need Penn State more. They are both capable of achieving their goals without one another.
"I think Joe Paterno is getting soft," said Jackie Sherrill, the former Pitt coach and Paterno nemesis. "The Joe Paterno I used to know, he was not that soft. He must be getting soft in his old age, or is trying to do the right thing."
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