Why the Pitt rivalry is dead, and you shouldn't care.
The Eastern Eight; for those who are unfamiliar, it was the brainchild of Joe Paterno. He envisioned it as an all sports league, to rival the other major conferences. It would have included Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, Rutgers and Temple. There were rumors that Maryland would have left the ACC and joined as well. The football champion would have received an automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl. Legend has it that the deal was done, until Pitt, Syracuse and Boston College all decided to join/remain in the Big East, and remain as independents in football. Penn State, West Virginia, Rutgers & Temple would all remain in the venerable Atlantic 10 for basketball and most other sports. Of course the folks at Pitt argue that Penn State was offered admission to the Big East, but refused because there was no football component to the Big East at that time. I imagine this is true.
Why it matters.
Pitt and Syracuse, the primary offenders, clearly made basketball decisions. The Big East was clearly a superior league, and cutting ties with St. John's and Georgetown to play Penn State and WVU in basketball was unpalatable from a basketball prospective for obvious reasons. This important insofar as its sets the precedent more than 20 years ago that Syracuse and Pitt were going to be basketball schools, rather than football schools. Subsequent developments like both football programs going into the tank for long stretches, and more importantly the destruction of Pitt Stadium to make way for Petersen Events Center both show the schools predilections toward basketball over football.
If you look at the Big East, then and now, you see schools that look more like Pitt and Syracuse than Penn State. Today, in addition to those two schools, the backbone of the Big East includes Cincinnati, Louisville & South Florida (in Tampa). What do those schools all have in common? They are urban schools, located in "second" cities, that while being bigger schools, are not flagship state schools. I have already started to hear whispers in the wind about Memphis, and what a natural fit for the Big East they would be in both football and basketball. The basketball only members; DePaul, Marquette, St. John's, Georgetown & Providence (previously Boston College) are all small catholic schools in urban areas. The Big East is essentially a confederation of two types of schools, neither of which are similar to Penn State in any way. If PSU were to join the Big East, we constantly find that our interests are being prejudiced by group decisions being made to favor schools with which we have nothing in common.
Questions and Answers
Q; But it's not like they love us in the Big Ten.
A: This is true, but look at the schools, they are all flagship state schools and land grant colleges. The interests of Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, etc. are much more likely to be in line with Penn State's than Pitt and Syracuse's. Loved or not, the marriage with the Big Ten makes eleven times more sense than marriage with the Big East. Even Notre Dame is having trouble making being an independent work, in fact, they have to compete in the Big East in every other sport. It's fair to assume the Big East won't give that same deal to Penn State.
Q: But that doesn't mean we can't still play Pitt in football.
A: No, it doesn't but why should we? Pitt brings nothing to the table that we can't get from a hundred other schools. The economics don't work out, and if it was really that important, either Pitt or Penn State needed to make different decisions a long time ago. At this point it's better to make a clean break, and try to build new traditions.
Q: But Pitt's our rival.
A: No they aren't, they used to be our rival. They are an urban basketball school that we have nothing at all in common with. Further, to the extent they were our rival, the fight is over. We won. Joe Paterno's record against Pitt is 23-7-1, does that sound like a rivalry to you? Pitt may have won the last battle, but this war was over a long time ago. The fact that Pitt won't admit it is irrelevant.
Q: But it's tradition.
A: We used to play Bucknell every year too. But eventually, we stopped. Why? Because it also tradition that times must, and always do change.
Q: You're just scared of Pitt.
A: Not really, the record speaks for itself. But being shamed into a game is no way to make a football schedule anyway. I'll be honest though, we have kicked Pitt's ass for forty years and they keep coming back. They keep arguing that they are better, and they keep signing Penn State Sucks. I respect that, but we don't need that shit in our life. The Big Ten is already requires eight tough football games, what Penn State doesn't need is a damn blood feud with a 4-7 team that's going to show up ready to fight to the death, notwithstanding their demand that we show up at their place every other year to do it. If we are going to schedule a tough game, that has to be a home and home, I say play a team that we'd actually get some credit for beating.
Q: But it's just not the same without playing Pitt.
A: No, it's not. I'll admit that before the Michigan State game last year I contemplated ways to try and revive the series. But look that the scores of the Michigan State games, the series is just as competitive, if not more competitive than the Pitt series. Further, Michigan State is usually better than Pitt.