Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There are many rivalries in sports, but few elicit more pride and passion than a gridiron get-together between Penn State and Pittsburgh. Across the state of Pennsylvania last week, a collective 'Oh yeah, it's about time' went up with the announcement that the Nittany Lions and Panthers would meet for the first time since the turn of the century with a two-game set scheduled for 2016-17.
"We are very excited about renewing our rivalry with Pitt. We have worked our schedules to play some of our neighboring rivalries, and are glad to have identified dates that worked for our schedules," said Penn State director of athletics Tim Curley. "The Penn State-Pitt game was one that football fans across the Commonwealth have been passionate about. We look forward to playing the Panthers again."
Penn State owns a 50-42-4 record in the all-time series, which dates back to 1893, but Pitt won the last meeting with a 12-0 decision in the Steel City back in 2000. The two teams met every year from 1900-31, and again from 1935-92. There was another brief installment from 1997-2000 before this recent, and rather lengthy hiatus.
It is one of the fiercest and most competitive rivalries in all of college football, and why they don't play every year is something of a mystery. Some believe it is scheduling issue, with Penn State deciding against a regular meeting with Pitt as its Big Ten Conference slate is already tough enough. The Panthers have an easier road in the Big East, but in order to fit each other into the schedule it would mean both would need to give up a game against either a non-BCS conference school, or in some cases a FCS program, which means less money and the potential for an early loss -- a risk teams that dream of challenging for the national title simply aren't willing to take, at least not on a consistent basis.
There are also some who think PSU legendary coach Joe Paterno continues to hold a grudge against Pittsburgh for not getting on board with his suggestion in the 1980s that the two anchor a new conference consisting of Eastern schools. That seems pretty childish, if true, and not really in character with what we know about Paterno and his almost 'God-like' status in Happy Valley. Further debunking that belief is the fact that JoePa apparently lobbied for Pitt's admission into the Big Ten when the league was contemplating adding a 12th team. Nebraska wound up getting the nod.
No, the real reason is money, and as we all know -- money is what either motivates, or alienates, interested parties in most situations.
Who pays the price in such squabbles? That would of course be the fans. And as we see in the professional ranks, for some strange reason a specific sports' loyalty to the very people it depends on for support, and more importantly, to line their pockets, ranks way down on their list of priorities. Still, it's not like an annual donnybrook between these two Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning wouldn't generate big bucks.
So for at least two years, fans in the Keystone State can get whipped into a frenzy for a clash of [former] titans, whose time to renew a rivalry that deserves its rightful place among the very best, has come. Will it lead to more encounters in the future? Probably. Although, logic will tell you it's not going to be nearly often enough to satiate those who believe it should be a regular occurrence, much like Pitt has with West Virginia or even Notre Dame, or that Penn State has with... uh, who would that be again? The Lions have a regular date with that Mid-American Conference juggernaut Temple, and have deals in place to face Virginia, Rutgers and Syracuse in the coming years -- the latter two also coming from the Big East. Unfortunately, none of those will provide anywhere near the excitement a fur-flying fracas between PA's two biggest programs would.
Bottom line... rekindling this rivalry is good news, and something both schools seem to be happy about. At least today.
"This is an exciting day for college football fans. The tremendous history of this rivalry is well documented and the passion that fans have for this game in enormous," said Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson. "We are very pleased that this two-game series is now in place and a new generation of fans can experience the excitement."
Both Penn State and Pittsburgh have had their share of outstanding players and memorable seasons. Meetings between the two are usually intense and full of dramatic moments, and there is no doubt that when this brief series concludes that another chapter in this wonderful rivalry will be added. For the fans' sake, the hope is the decision makers at both schools recognize the relevance of such an event, and work together to make sure another decade and a half doesn't go by until they do it all again.