Penn State

Penn State Football: Will Renewing Old Rivalries Be Worth It for Penn State?

Especially if the old rivalries do not include Pittsburgh?

With Monday's announcement that Maryland will be joining the B1G conference in 2014, and with yesterday's announcement that Rutgers will also join, I have been amused by some of the comments on my Facebook home page deriding the additions.

I suppose, if you were looking at these additions from solely a football point of view, and if you weren't one to travel to watch games in person, you might ask, "What's the point?".  

Let's start with Maryland.  Penn State has played Maryland in football 37 times.  The record against Maryland is 35 wins, one loss, and one tie.

The last time Penn State lost to Maryland was in 1961.  One might look at this move and say that Penn State had found another team to beat up on every year.  In fact that's what numerous people are saying.  Ho hum.  So what?

I was at the game for the 13-13 tie in 1989.  It was a frustrating game.  A tie is as bad as a loss, if not worse.  It leaves you with this unresolved feeling, and a tie was not something Joe Paterno would ever go for.  But Maryland did towards the end of the game, rather than risk a loss.  Penn State couldn't score more points to win.

Penn State was playing Maryland at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, a baseball field ill-suited for football and force fit for that purpose.  It wasn't the best environment.  But College Park's stadium, which had only about 48,000 seats, had outgrown the demand for tickets for the Penn State game, so they moved the game to the Baltimore venue.

A lot can change in twenty years.  Memorial Stadium was torn down, replaced by Camden Yards. We were staying at the Inner Harbor Marriott in Baltimore for a Penn State-Maryland game the weekend they imploded all the warehouses and other buildings to create that new venue.  We had a view of the implosions directly from our hotel room window.

In fact we threw an impromptu implosion party after the game with our friends and their family who were diehard Maryland fans.  The mini-bar bill for that implosion party was amazingly high.  Live and learn.  We haven't done that again.  But we always enjoyed the interactions with Maryland fans and our excursions to Baltimore and the Inner Harbor.

But I digress...

There were actually some close games in the decade of the 1980's.  Nail-biters.  Penn State always wound up winning, but the games weren't decided until the fourth quarter.  Bobby Ross was the coach from 1982-1986 and had an overall winning record of  39 wins, 19 losses, and 1 tie.  He led his team to three straight ACC conference titles.  Since then, only Ralph Friedgen has had a winning coaching record, and he also achieved an ACC conference title, in 2002.

Penn State's own linebackers coach, Ron Vanderlinden, was head coach at Maryland from 1997-2000.  He left after accumulating a losing record, but was recognized for paving the way for Ralph Friedgen's immediate success with solid recruiting.  Vanderlinden was hired by Coach Joe Paterno and he was one of the two coaches retained by Coach Bill O'Brien when O'Brien took over in January 2012. 

In fact, Coach O'Brien himself may have had something to do with Friedgen's success.  He coached the running backs at Maryland for two years before being named offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke in 2005.

So the ties run deep between Penn State and Maryland, and not only as an old rivalry. It's not just athletics, either.  The University of Maryland and Penn State University compete with each other all the time for the best academic students.  Or cooperate with each other on research.  There has been cross-hiring not only of coaches but also of professors and administrators.

Maryland is located in an area where Penn State fans will flock to the game.  In fact, even today, Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland lists as its top crowd a 1975 game between 14th ranked Maryland and 9th ranked Penn State.  That crowd was 58.973.

With seating capacity of about 54,000 it wouldn't surprise me if the annual games between Penn State and Maryland were moved to FedEx Field, with a capacity of over 90,000.  With 46,000 Penn State alumni living in Del-Mar-Va and another 316,000 living within 200 miles away in Pennsylvania, that will probably be necessary.

And it wouldn't surprise me that, due to Maryland's entrance into the Big Ten, its football program will become more competitive.  It is very dangerous to try to predict the future by looking at the past.  Penn State had to make numerous adjustments when it joined the Big Ten.  The nature of the personnel that were recruited changed.  Especially when it came to size of the players.  Maryland will adjust as well.

As for other sports, like basketball or soccer or lacrosse, Maryland will be immediately competitive.  And we will look forward to the challenge of playing them.

What about Rutgers?  Is this another school that Penn State can beat up on in football?  In twenty-four games dating back to 1918, Rutgers has won only twice.  In 1918, and in 1988.

My husband Terry and I actually missed that 16-21 loss in 1988.  His daughter had the audacity to get married on a Penn State football weekend. We had also missed the win in 1987 for our own wedding.  That was an accident.  October 10, 1987 was the open date.  After our wedding was arranged, the schedule was changed for TV coverage.

If you look at the series with Rutgers, there was one game in 1918, a six-year home and home series between 1950 and 1955, and then an annual competition between 1977 and 1995.  Of those last seventeen contests, eleven were played at Beaver Stadium, and only six were played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. 

Coach Joe Paterno always spoke highly of playing Rutgers, and he hired Dick Anderson, former head coach for Rutgers, to coach Penn State's offensive line.  Dick Anderson retired last year from Penn State.

When it was announced that Nebraska was joining the Big Ten, Paterno expressed his displeasure that the B1G conference was moving west rather than east.  He especially wanted to see Rutgers join the Big Ten. 

Why?  Recruiting.  Over the years Paterno built very strong ties to New Jersey high schools and coaches.  Playing every few years at the Meadowlands was a showcase for recruits and also a compelling value proposition for New Jersey players to come to Penn State and play on their home turf once in a while.

Paterno also knew that with about 40,000 plus Penn State alumni living in the NY-NJ-Conn tri-state area, and with that big group of 300,000 plus alumni living next door in PA, the Meadowlands would essentially be a Penn State home game.  And it was.  In fact, when we lived in Easton, PA., the Meadowlands was a much closer trip for us than Beaver Stadium.

Rutgers as a football school has changed significantly since 1995, the last time Penn State played against them.  In the last seven years, Rutgers has had six winning seasons, and the school is currently ranked 18th in the BCS poll and contending for its first ever Big East championship.

Penn Staters now have another reason to root for Rutgers against Pitt this weekend (as if we really needed another reason!)

In 2006, Rutgers had its best season with an 11-2 record and a final ranking of 12.  This was under the leadership of Coach Greg Schiano, who left in January 2012 to take over as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Coach Kyle Flood, promoted from within, appears to be poised to continue the winning tradition.

Rutgers also has built a new stadium since Penn State stopped playing them, and that stadium now has a capacity of 52,454.  However, as with Maryland's stadium, that capacity might not be enough to satisfy the demand for tickets to a Rutgers-Penn State game.

My former students are already planning their tailgates for MetLife Stadium (formerly the Meadowlands)!

Personally I'm excited about both schools entering the B1G conference.  Why?  Because as someone who has traveled to every away game that Penn State plays, I'm quite tired of getting on and off planes to get to most B1G games.   It will be nice to hop in the car and drive to two away games within a four hour drive.  Until now, Ohio State was the closest away game, more than five hours away.

I'm especially pleased that Illinois might  move to the Legends Division.  Why?  Because that's the most difficult school to get to from Penn State.  It involves a flight either to Indianapolis or to Chicago and then a two hour drive.  We used to fly Delta directly into Champaign, but Delta dropped that route this year.  Flying there less than bi-annually will suit me just fine.

As someone who is also a season ticket holder for men's and women's basketball, Rutgers and Maryland both add greatly to the quality of competition in that sport.

As someone who is on the faculty at Penn State and recognizes the quality of academics from both schools as well as the potential for research collaboration, I see both Rutgers and Maryland as a great fit for the overall goals of the Big Ten consortium.

Will it make Penn State fans happy?  Penn Staters like to win games, and the past would indicate we will always have a chance to win against both schools.  However, the past doesn't predict the future.

There is a certain group of fans who are disappointed it wasn't Pitt and are very hopeful that Pitt will be the next announcement if the B1G expands to sixteen teams.

Pitt in fact would be a good choice for further expansion, if such is in the cards in the future, but they too would have to pay a $50 million exit fee to the ACC, not so easy.

Its size is comparable to state universities.  It's a state related institution.  Like Maryland and Rutgers, Pitt is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), one of the 63 leading research universities in the United States. 

But there is not so much gain for the B1G by adding Pitt.  No new cable deals, no new recruiting.  Penn State already has western PA. covered.  Perhaps adding Pitt and a MAC school like the University of Buffalo (also an AAU member) would bring added value?

If the B1G conference is looking at two more teams, it's hard to tell at this point which teams might be available or willing.  Especially given the desire to have B1G schools be part of the AAU.

But, if the B1G conference planned to stick with just fourteen teams, why is its new logo B1G?  That G sure can convert to a 6 easily!  Or maybe the logo can just be converted to BIG.