Penn State and Pitt’s rivalry might be renewed — again.
The Nittany Lions resumed their long-standing series with the Panthers in 2016 with a trip to Heinz Field. Beaver Stadium hosted Pitt this season, and the two programs will continue the home-and-home series in 2018 and 2019.
Panthers athletic director Heather Lyke, in an interview with The Canton Repository earlier this week, said “we’re working hard” on a new deal.
“We have a contract very close to being done and being sent to Penn State to extend the football deal,” Lyke said. “I think that’s a huge priority and a huge rivalry, and it’s necessary.”
In response, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour declined to confirm a newly presented contract. But she didn’t nix the idea either.
“As I’ve said many times before, I have strong appreciation for the history and tradition of the Penn State-Pitt series,” Barbour said in a statement Thursday. “Since Heather’s arrival at Pitt we’ve had conversations about the series. We (Penn State) have to determine how any possible future games might fit with our other scheduling requirements and objectives.”
Obviously, both fanbases want the rivalry to return after 2019. Penn State and Pitt first met in 1893, the Nittany Lions lead the series 51-43-4, and the two schools played every year from 1935 to 1992.
But the scheduling of the series would be a hurdle, at least in the near future.
Penn State coach James Franklin said at Big Ten media days in Chicago that, “Our schedule is set through 2026 or something like that.” The Nittany Lions have one Power 5 nonconference opponent on the slate each year through 2025. After the current deal with Pitt is up, Penn State faces Virginia Tech in 2020 and 2025, Auburn in 2021 and 2022 and West Virginia in 2023 and 2024.
The Nittany Lions have at least one non-conference opening from 2020-25, but taking on two Power 5 nonconference opponents might not be the best scheduling strategy in College Football Playoff era.
Franklin said on Sept. 12 that there’s not necessarily a formula to scheduling properly around the playoff. “But I think the most important thing you can do, year in and year out, is schedule in a way that’s going to give your team the best chance to win your conference,” Franklin said. “Then, everything else will take care of itself from there.”
We’ll see if a continuation of the Pitt series fits into Penn State’s future plans.