Could a neutral site help ‘rivalry’ game continue?
Penn State coach James Franklin remained optimistic Tuesday when addressing the the potential for a future Penn State-Pitt meeting, saying the Nittany Lions are “open” to talks about the schedule.
“We’re open to having discussions,” Franklin said at his weekly press conference. “But it’s got to equally make sense for both parties. It’s got to make sense for Pitt. It’s got to make sense for Penn State.”
Saturday’s noon contest between the Nittany Lions and Panthers is the final game of a four-year series that started in 2016. Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said last spring that PSU would likely not resume playing Pitt until at least 2030.
Barbour’s comments last year came a few weeks after Pitt AD Heather Lyke told reporters she sent a four-year contract proposal to Penn State starting in 2026. But nothing came out of that.
Franklin said Tuesday it’s trickier for the Nittany Lions to schedule nonconference opponents because they have nine mandated conference games by the Big Ten — while Pitt and the ACC have just eight. Franklin has gone on record several times, saying he prefers to schedule as many home games as possible and, obviously, Pitt would prefer a home-and-home arrangement.
Penn State’s head coach offered up another idea Tuesday.
“I could see us possibly maybe doing a neutral-site game with them,” Franklin said. “I think that’s a possibility. We could have discussions. But we’ve got to be creative about it.”
When asked where that potential neutral-site game might happen — Pitt and Penn State are just a three-hour drive apart — Franklin backed off slightly, saying he hadn’t thought it through. But he still didn’t want to close the door on another Penn State-Pitt game.
“I’m not saying that’s the answer,” Franklin said, referring to a neutral site, “but that’s one of many that we can look at and discuss. All I’m saying is we are not closing the door. We are open to a bunch of different discussions — whether that is home and home, whether that is a neutral site, whatever that may be. But it sure would make it a lot easier if we were both playing eight conference games or nine conference games.”
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi seemed a lot less optimistic during his weekly press conference Monday.
Narduzzi, the former Michigan State coordinator who took over Pitt in 2015, said he’s telling his team this week they might be the “last team to ever get to play this game.”
“I don’t know when it’ll be played,” Narduzzi said. “I’m either going to be in a coffin or retired probably, so I don’t know which one it’ll be.”
Franklin applauded the series Tuesday, complimenting the great crowds at every game. Toward the end of his press conference, he noted that Heinz Field set the record in 2016 for the largest attendance for any sporting even in Pittsburgh history with 68,983. Earlier in his press conference, he explained how Pitt doesn’t impact the Nittany Lions’ bottom line quite as much.
“I think this game will be sold out,” Franklin acknowledged, referring to Saturday’s game, “but we had 104,000 last week (against Buffalo), so we’re talking about probably an increase in 5,000 or 6,000.”
The Penn State-Pitt rivalry may not be what it used to, when both the Nittany Lions and Panthers were chasing national titles in the 1980s. But neither program remains a big fan of the other — “I don’t like them one bit,” Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review over the weekend — and bragging rights remain on the line.
Franklin said he understands the “significance” of the game, even if he tells his team to treat it like any other. The rivalry doesn’t always bring out the best in the teams or fan bases, Franklin said, but it’s still one he’d like to see on the schedule. At some point.
“We’re open to talking a bout all different concepts and options,” Franklin said, motioning to Penn State’s deputy director of external athletics. “Scott Sidwell is in the back, and his phone is open for conversations.”