Penn State football: Lions extend series with Pitt through 2019

gciprian@centredaily.comDecember 7, 2012 

Penn State and Pitt haven't met on a football field since 2000. Anybody born that year will get four chances to examine the rivalry as teenagers.

Regional shifts in the Nittany Lions' future schedules continued Friday when they extended their series with Pitt through 2019. Penn State and Pitt initially agreed last year to a two-year series beginning in 2016.

The programs will meet at Pittsburgh'“s Heinz Field in 2016 and '18. The Panthers visit Beaver Stadium in 2017 and '19. All four games are in September.

The Nittany Lions and Panthers have met 96 times since 1893. Penn State, which leads the all-time 50-42-4, has faced Pitt more than any other opponent.

Retired Penn State radio broadcaster Fran Fisher said older and younger fans might have different reactions to Friday's news.

"Some of the older guys will welcome it of course because of the natural rivalry that existed before and the fact that it's an easier drive to get to than the Big Ten road games," said Fisher, who announced more than 20 Penn State-Pitt games. "I'm not sure the younger fans realize or appreciate what those rivalries were like years ago."

Securing four games with Pitt adds to the eastern flavor entering Penn State schedules.

The Big Ten is adding Maryland and Rutgers as its 13th and 14th members. The Terrapins are officially joining the conference in 2014. The Scarlet Knights are trying to join the conference the same year. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told his school's athletic board Friday that the Big Ten's decision to add Maryland and Rutgers was partially motivated by concerns of losing Penn State to another conference. Penn State officials have never publicly discussed leaving the Big Ten for the Atlantic Coast Conference or another other conference.

One thing is certain: Penn State's 2016 schedule will be the most fan-friendly slate since the football program joined the Big Ten in 1993.

Penn State visits Pitt on Sept. 10, 2016. Temple visits Beaver Stadium the following Saturday.

The Big Ten hasn't finalized its realignment plans. But Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers will likely be placed in the same division, meaning the Nittany Lions will face four opponents whose campuses are less than 250 miles from State College.

Penn State hasn't met Maryland since 1993. Penn State last played Rutgers in 1995.

"I think it's deja vu all over again," Penn State acting athletic director Dave Joyner told the Centre Daily Times. "It wasn't that we needed to schedule a whole bunch of eastern teams. On the other end, scheduling eastern teams is great exposure for our players. A 300- to 400-mile radius is where we get the majority of our players. Having that quartet makes it very interesting."

Once considered among the nation's top rivalries, Penn State's series with Pitt started eroding once the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. The teams didn't meet from 1993-96. Pitt returned to Penn State's schedule for four years beginning in 1997.

Instead of playing home-and-home series, former Penn State coach Joe Paterno insisted on more meetings in State College than Pittsburgh, Fisher said. Penn State, which was committed to eight Big Ten games, including four on the road, sought added revenue from playing the majority of its non-conference games at Beaver Stadium to fund its athletic department. Pitt has been the home team 66 times, including every year from 1903 to 1930, in the series.

"Joe was interested in getting that extra game here for financial purposes," Fisher said. "When you go out of conference, the structure is that you have to get games where you can't go home-and-home. You have to get an imbalance of home games in your favor somehow in order to meet the budget."

The schools went their separate ways beginning in 2001.

The Panthers, who recently completed their final season in the Big East last month, join the Atlantic Coast Conference next year. They are committed to eight conference games per season. For now, the Nittany Lions are committed to eight conference games, although Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany wants athletic directors and coaches to seriously consider playing more conference games.

Joyner said he first met with Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson about a variety of topics earlier this year. The conversations evolved into adding more years to the football series. Joyner approached first-year football coach Bill O'Brien with the idea. O'Brien, who has developed a respect for first-year Pitt coach Paul Chryst, endorsed it.

"Bill was in favor of it right in the beginning," Joyner said, "and Steve and I just continued talking."

O'Brien said in a statement that he's "thrilled" to play Pitt multiple times.

"Regional rivalries in college football are special," he said. "I have been involved in a few as a coach. Penn State versus Pitt is a rivalry rich with history and tradition."

The meetings in Pittsburgh will connect Penn State with its largest alumni base. The school has 27,015 alums living in Allegheny County, according to the Penn State alumni association.

Joyner said playing Pitt will evoke memories of his own football and wrestling careers at Penn State.

"There are personal relationships with people you have known over the years and have grown to respect," Joyner said. "There are a lot of solid, nostalgic memories from playing a team like Pitt."

Joyner said Penn State would consider playing Pitt beyond 2019 if extending the series "makes sense for both schools." Fisher said it might take more than four years to rekindle what fans from both schools cherished.

"When you have two big schools like Pitt and Penn State that are a 120 miles apart that have played some exciting football games over the years, it's a natural thing that young people didn't get a chance to enjoy," Fisher said. "I'm not sure if a four-game series is enough to renew interest. When it was year in and year out every year, you had mom and dad talking about it. But I still think it's a good thing for college football and it's good for Pitt and Penn State when they are playing again."

Penn State reintroduces another former rivalry when it meets Syracuse next August in a neutral site game at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. Joyner said he would "be very happy" to explore additional meetings with eastern teams. West Virginia and Boston College were among the other programs Penn State regularly faced before joining the Big Ten.

"I have no objections to playing more eastern teams," Joyner said.

Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.

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