As Penn State prepared for the 2016 season, I found myself excited about the prospect of reigniting the rivalry with Pitt. I’m old enough to remember when the teams met annually prior to the dissolution of the yearly series in 2000, but not old enough to remember when the series mattered for much. At the time, it seemed like just another out of conference match-up, while games against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and other Big Ten foes were the ones I eagerly anticipated later in the season.
I ended up writing this as I imagined a future where Penn State finally had that one big game each season against a true rival. I thought it was something that could pan out and materialize into an annual highlight of the college football season. Just two seasons later, I’m happy to admit I was absolutely, 100 percent wrong.
Penn State completed the 2020 football schedule during the offseason, leaving no room for a game with Pitt following the end of the current four-game series that will come to an end in 2019. Sure, Pitt could be added to the schedule again in...2030 and beyond. But Penn State made one thing clear- an annual game against the Panthers isn’t a priority.
And the strong majority of Penn State fans appear to be perfectly fine with that.
For starters, the match-up is much more desirable for Pitt’s athletic program than for Penn State. As we learned in 2016, Pitt can use a home game with Penn State as an opportunity to sell tickets to the Nittany Lion faithful. And not just tickets for that one game, but requiring them to purchase season tickets for Pitt’s entire season. In 2016, Pitt’s average home attendance was 46,076. Without the boost provided by Penn State fans purchasing their season tickets in 2017, it dropped to just 36,295. Penn State’s average home attendance in 2017 was at 106,707, which was hardly aided by Pitt fans coming out in droves to purchase tickets.
One valid case is that Pitt at least provides an exciting out-of-conference game for Penn State fans, which is absolutely correct. Almost all fans would rather watch Penn State take on Pitt as opposed to a snoozefest against Kent State or Buffalo. But here’s the thing that the Pitt crowd tend to miss- Penn State will schedule home games against the likes of Idaho, Delaware and Appalachian State, because those programs will travel to State College for a single road game. Pitt isn’t likely to ever make that type of arrangement, so arguments that Penn State is “dodging” Pitt for easier match-ups are completely null and void.
Upcoming non-conference series against West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Auburn are much more compelling than playing Pitt again any time in the near future. And you know which other programs would be more compelling for Penn State to schedule as opposed to Pitt? How about Miami, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, Oregon, Clemson, Stanford, LSU, Texas A&M, TCU, Notre Dame, Florida, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Louisville, Kansas State, USC (east or west, for that matter), Georgia Tech, Florida State...shall I keep going? While Pitt does move the needle within the fanbase, it makes no sense to forgo so many more potential enticing nonconference opponents just for the sake of an annual contest with Pitt.
I wanted the rivalry to be reignited and become an annual highlight on the Penn State calendar. I truly did. But the last few years have proven that the two programs are just fine without meeting on the gridiron regularly. In the end...thanks, but no thanks.