Now that Pitt and Penn State have agreed to renew their rivalry, if ever so briefly, it seems a perfect time to end my hiatus from blogging.
Either that, or the prolific Dejan Kovacevic has shamed me into it.
Actually, I have long been trying to figure out how to reinvent Sitting Ringside since leaving the Pitt football beat to become a columnist/enterprise reporter. So I welcome any reader comments on what you would like to see in commentary or links. Feel free to drop me a line with your suggestions by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 412-320-7812 or on Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
I shared my view of Tuesday’s announcement of a two-game series in 2016-17 with a column, The Rivalry: What took so long? It prompted plenty of responses, some ranging from why Penn Staters believe Pitt isn’t worthy of an annual game to Panthers fans blaming Joe Paterno for ruining the rivalry because of an old grudge.
Here’s something to consider: Over the past decade, the Pitt and Penn State football programs aren’t as far apart as you might think. Yes, PSU plays in a superior conference (Big Ten) than Pitt (Big East) but both are BCS-affiliated. In the past 10 years, Penn State is 79-45 and Pitt is 75-49. PSU has had three sub-.500 seasons (2001, ’03 and ’04) to Pitt’s two (’05, ’07) but the Nittany Lions also have played in more BCS bowls (two, Rose and Orange) than the Panthers (one, Fiesta). And it’s been relatively close the past three years (PSU 29-10, Pitt 27-12) and equal the past two (18-8).
Last year, Pitt finished 8-5, PSU 7-6.
As a Pittsburgh native and Penn State alum, I’m all for renewing the Pitt-Penn State rivalry — even if the 15-season hiatus between their last meeting, in 2000, and their next, in September 2016, helped the Backyard Brawl become a better rivalry.
Here’s a Q&A I had with Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson:
Do you think the hiatus in the rivalry had anything to do with forcing Penn State fans to buy a ticket package instead of selling single-game tickets?
I really think, at that point, that game was set up in a four-game series but then it was already scheduled out beyond that. There really wasn’t an opportunity at that point to schedule anything in the realistic future.
Is there bad blood between the schools?
Do you want Pitt to play Penn State on an annual basis?
What I would say is, if we’d look at the future, we’re hopeful maybe we can get something going here but at the time you focus on this particular couple of games. We both agreed that we’re going to keep talking and see what the opportunities might be. Certainly, we’d like to play them. We’re looking forward to this game. I think it’s a significant game in the state. It’s one of those historic, great games. There’s only a handful of games like that are really great and historic. We’ve always been in favor of playing it as often as we can play it.
Do you think Pitt’s season should always begin with Penn State and end with West Virginia, with Notre Dame somewhere in the middle:
I don’t know about timing or that kind of thing when you play, necessarily. We’d have to factor that into the whole conference thing. Generally, people like the conference to be the culmination of the season, so I guess I’d have to think about that.
How would you feel about playing Penn State in the first game every year, or at least early?
I don’t know that. We play Notre Dame in the middle of the year, and that works out fine. Anytime it’s played is a good game.
Have you opened up a can of worms by agreeing to play? People are excited and now want this rivalry to be renewed and played on an annual basis.
Of course they are but they wanted it before, too. It doesn’t change anything, probably.
Has the Backyard Brawl surpassed Pitt-Penn State in terms of rivalries?
I think they’re both great games; both have had their moments. When you’re in a conference together, it elevates things. We’re so close in proximity. We’ve had this great, traditional rivalry with Notre Dame, with West Virginia and now this resumption of games with Penn State. I think that’s pretty special on the schedule when you’re looking at what other people have, in terms of the kinds of rivalries they have on the games. And rivalries are a big part of college football.
Do you feel like the Pitt-Penn State rivalry has been sabotaged at all because a generation has grown up without watching them play?
I don’t know if I’d say that. I’m just glad we got a chance to get it going.