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Pitt-Navy sound off

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When Pitt agreed to move the Navy football game from a Saturday afternoon (Oct. 13) to a Wednesday night (8 p.m. Oct. 10) so that it could be nationally televised by ESPN, it was bound to bring about passionate reaction from Panthers fans.

Personally, I’d be more outraged by the Pitt athletic department charging $5 for tickets (children 2 and under are free!) to the Blue-Gold Game this Saturday at Heinz Field. A first-time season-ticket buyer can get a second seat to seven games for $10, but Pitt is charging half that price for its annual spring game? No wonder the Panthers are lucky to draw 10,000 even in beautiful weather.

As for their reasons on agreeing to move the Navy game – the marquee attraction on Pitt’s overall weak home schedule – Pitt athletic director Jeff Long cited the national exposure, while Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt pointed to the extra preparation time, 10 days before Navy and nine days before Big East foe Cincinnati.

Panthers fans responded with some thoughtful answers. I saved the best e-mail, from a Navy JAG officer now serving in Iraq, for our Letters to the Editor section in this Sunday’s paper. Here are some Pitt fans’ thoughts on the university moving its best draw to a weeknight for the sake of national exposure and preparation time:

• Rich from Wexford: The “anti-weeknight” sentiment towards college football scheduling, it seems to me, comes largely from Big-10 types who are the same ones who like to lord their gigantic attendance figures over the rest of the football-playing world.

Fact is, there are only so many Big State U’s that can attract 80,000-plus crowds even when Ol’ State U. plays the Little Sisters of the Poor. City schools (like Boston College, Pitt, Miami, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Cincinnati) are NEVER going to have those conditions. We’ll always compete against other entertainment venues in an urban area … and in the case of Pitt, against pro sports, as well.

Does that invalidate us (speaking as a Pitt fan) as viable big-time college football participants? Occasional weeknight games are likely to be a part of our football experience going forward. That doesn’t relegate us to second-tier status. I’m very cool with that.

• Jim from Salem, Ohio: Jeff Long is fast becoming the idiot savant – with the emphasis on idiot – of Pitt football. National exposure my foot: How many season tickets does ESPN buy every year? If we as fans have to go through this crap every year, what is the use of buying tickets prior to game time? For me, no more season tickets. Why buy for six or seven home games and only get to use four or five?

I sometimes wonder if Long ever gives any thought to pleasing or being loyal to the 35,000 solid fan base at Pitt and grow it by winning more instead of all this hocus pocus crap about national exposure. Does anyone in their right mind think anyone outside of Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and Northwest Virginia give two hoots in hell about Pitt?

• Brian from Chesapeake, Ohio: For me, personally, I don’t like it because I doubt I will be able to come up for the game. As for Pitt … financially, it is probably a good move because the television money will probably exceed any money lost from people not buying a single-game ticket because of the move.

For preparation, I think it is a bad move because I would rather have 14 days to prepare for Navy’s option attack and only seven for Cincy than 10 days for each.

For exposure, once again, it depends. Exposure on TV anytime is good in its own right, but I don’t think having a game televised from what could be a half-full stadium on a night that is regarded as one for MAC teams is a good thing.

I guess if the team enters the game 5-0 or a respectable 4-1 and wins comfortably in front of 45,000-plus, it will probably be good. Anything else, I think it may backfire.

• Mark from Falls Church, Va. (formerly of Lower Burrell): Pitt’s decision to move the Pitt-Navy game is certainly positive for Pitt in terms of strategy and television exposure as Coach Wannstedt and Jeff Long have pointed out. However, I think the move will turn out to be a pretty big negative in terms of attendance especially when it comes to out-of-town Pitt fans and season ticket holders, like myself, and Navy fans who may have made the weekend trip.

It’s one thing to take off time from work to make the trip back for a Thursday night game and make a long weekend out of the trip back to Pittsburgh. A Wednesday night game is asking a lot especially when you have two marquee away football games (Virginia and Michigan State) that many fans, including myself, will try and get to. Navy on Wednesday night: who needs two?

• Joel from Shadyside: I guess it depends on whether Pitt believes it benefits from the exposure of an empty stadium (more than usual) from playing on a Wednesday.

A lot of alumni from out of town and even those who are in town may have trouble attending the game. With an already extremely weak home schedule this year, this will further decrease ticket sales this coming season.

• Jesse from Arlington, Va. (via Pittsburgh): Perhaps an unintended (or intended) consequence (benefit) of this schedule change is a large decrease in the number of Navy fans that will be able to make the mid-week trip for the game. While there are many Pitt fans that will not be able to make it (myself included), the number of Navy fans is a far greater number. They travel about as well as any team in the country and have a strong alumni base in the Northeast. A game in Pittsburgh gives an opportunity for all these alumni to see a game against a BCS team. I am sure that financially having the game on ESPN vs. lost ticket sales is at worst a wash, so for the athletic department the exposure and increased home-field advantage due to fewer Navy fans seems like a no-brainer.

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