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Penn State Not A Villain For Not Playing Pitt Regularly

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In the wake of Penn State's announcement of a new series with Syracuse, writers and fans are as angry as ever with Joe Paterno for not doing more to schedule Pitt either in place of the Orange or in addition. There's plenty of blame to share, however.

As expected, the announcement that Penn State will be facing Syracuse in a three-game series in 2013 and 2020-2021 has ruffled the feathers of those who want to see Pitt and Penn State renew their old Eastern rivalry as well.

Tim Hyland of About.com opined on the situation last Thursday.

My question is simple, folks: Instead of goofing around with short, meaningless series against average-at-best opponents (see: Virginia, Rutgers, Syracuse), shouldn't Penn State finally get around to scheduling the one series that every true college football fan actually wants to see?

...

The only place these memories don't live on, apparently, is up in Happy Valley, where the Nittany Lion powers-that-be stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their history--and their greatest rival.

Sure, they'll throw us college football fans a bone every now and then--give JoePa credit, he is traveling down to 'Bama this year; and yes, Penn State-Syracuse was a great rivalry too--but the one thing they won't give us is the one thing that we really want to see.

Penn State-Pitt.

Every year.

No excuses.

Bob Smizik added this nugget.

I think Pitt would have agreed to such a contract, although I’m not suggesting Pitt sought such a deal. It appears as long as Joe Paterno is in power at Penn State, Pitt will not be considered as a future opponent.

That’s Penn State’s loss, Pitt’s loss and the loss of football fans in the state.

Let's not overstate the value of the old rivalry to Penn State's fan base at large in relation to some of its other historical Eastern foes. Yes, it is still huge for fans of both schools in western Pennsylvania, where thousands of students attend Pitt, PSU or branch campuses throughout the area. Thus, no matter how much time passes between now and the next matchup, Pitt-Penn State will always be a rivalry of words at the very least.

That said, Penn State has other regional concerns as well. At one time, as Black Shoe Diaries describes in this two part series (Part I, Part II), Penn State's rivalry with Syracuse may have actually been bigger than that of Pitt. Penn State also has huge alumni bases in the New York City and Baltimore/Washington, which is why scheduled series with Virginia and Rutgers make sense, too.

Hyland's assertion that games against these schools are "meaningless" is flagrantly off base. They're not. Though some of them may not rise to the level of intensity that Pitt-Penn State might, they mean things to Penn State alumni living in the areas around these schools, and in some cases, they've waited even longer for them than Pitt-Penn State advocates have. It would be ignorant of Penn State to ignore its fans in these areas and focus squarely on Pitt.

Hyland overstates Pitt's standing in the college football landscape and implies that Penn State is scheduling inferior opponents to avoid the Panthers, labeling the others "average at best" while leaving Pitt out of that group where, despite its recent success, it actually fits quite nicely.

Since 1981, Pitt has one 10-win season (2009), four bowl wins, and one conference title, while Syracuse has five 10-win seasons, nine bowl wins, and four conference titles (all since Pitt joined the Big East). For a writer who talks about the importance of history in one breath, it's interesting how he conveniently forgets Pitt's very mediocre track record over the last 25 years in the next.

Most importantly, it's unfair of Smizik and Hyland to lay all the blame on Penn State for the series between the two schools ending indefinitely. Sure, the fact that Pitt was one of the schools that rejected Joe Paterno's all-eastern conference proposal weighs on things, and there's probably still some animosity on Penn State's end over that, but Syracuse rejected Paterno as well, and by 2021, the Nittany Lions will have played the Orange five times in 13 years. Shouldn't writers, rather than accusing Penn State of all the wrongdoing, be asking themselves "What is Syracuse doing that Pitt is not?"

Probably, though it's more convenient to just blame Paterno.

Yes, history is very important in college football. Tradition is almost as important to some people as the actual games. But to accuse Penn State of abandoning that simply because it isn't playing Pitt is absurd. Penn State just finished non-conference home-and-homes with Notre Dame and Syracuse. They'll play another traditional rival in Alabama in 2010 and 2011, then meet up with Rutgers, Virginia, and Syracuse again down the road. It's not avoiding anyone. It can't all be Penn State's fault.

If writers like Smizik and Hyland truly want to see the series resume, it's time they asked why Pitt hasn't secured a series while Syracuse, Rutgers, Alabama, Notre Dame and Virginia have succeeded, and put pressure on Pitt administrators to do more. Yes, Penn State shares the blame, but the key word is shares.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.