So at long last, Penn State and Pitt are going to renew their long-lost, once-wonderful football rivalry.
Except, they're not.
Yesterday afternoon, officials from Penn State and Pitt announced the two teams would finally meet again--in 2016. The announcement was greeted with excitement (Pitt fans), shock (Penn State fans) and bewilderment (Joe Paterno, who surely was not consulted here, given his well-documented opposition to the series).
I mean, this was big news up here in Pennsylvania: Penn State-Pitt was back.
Then a few hours passed, and there came the rather sobering realization that Penn State-Pitt was not actually back, and that while it's all fine and dandy that the Nittany Lions and Panthers will play a couple games a few years down the road, this little announcement was exactly that: Little. And rather meaningless.
See, as it turns out, Penn State and Pitt aren't "renewing" their series at all; they are simply going to play two games--one in 2016, in Pittsburgh, one in 2017, in Happy Valley. Afterward, the old rivals will very likely once again go their separate ways, and we will return to status quo: A great, great rivalry series, left for dead, for no good reason.
As longtime readers know, I have been advocating for the return of the Penn State-Pitt game for years now. I've written longwinded columns about it. I've done radio appearances talking about. I've told everyone and anyone that this game was once great--truly great--and could be great again, if only the folks at Pitt and Penn State (well, mostly Penn State) would just give it a chance.
Unfortunately, they won't.
Look, all indications are that Pitt wants this series to be renewed, and renewed legitimately--an annual game, no questions asked, home and home. You know, a real rivalry. How novel. Penn State, however, remains stubbornly opposed, and while some Pitt fans might believe Paterno is at the root of this opposition (it's a long story, but basically, Pitt thwarted Paterno's grand plans for an Eastern athletic conference back in the early 1980s, and some say he's still bitter about that) the reality is much more mundane. If there's a villain here, it's the almighty dollar.
When it comes right down to it, Penn State officials don't want to schedule a home-and-home with Pitt because they believe that by doing so, they will limit their scheduling options going forward--and make it more difficult for themselves to have seven or even eight home games each season (including embarrassing and altogether ridiculous games against the Indiana States and Youngstown States of the world). Those home games are important, of course, because home games at Penn State generate a ton of money; the ticket sales and concession sales and (increasingly outrageous) parking fees help keep the entire athletics operation afloat, basically.
To hear Penn State athletic director Tim Curley say it, he simply can't schedule a long-term series with Pitt--because if he did so, he would imperil the entirety of Penn State athletics.
Which, of course, is utter nonsense.
Yes, Penn State stands to make more money if it hosts more home football games. One cannot argue with that fact. But what Curley is trying to sell here--the idea that a long-term Pitt series would put his department's financial future at risk--simply doesn't add up. It's a lie, is what it is. And every college football fan knows it.
You see, each and every year, the Georgia Bulldogs play Georgia Tech. Each and every year, the Florida Gators play Florida State. Each and every year, the South Carolina Gamecocks play Clemson. Each and every year, the Iowa Hawkeyes play Iowa State. And to my knowledge, none of those schools have been financially eviscerated by the inconvenience of, you know, actually playing their in-state rival, honoring the history of the game, and basically doing the right thing for their football-loving constituents.
I have said it time and time and time again: What separates us here in the world of college football from those cretins up in the NFL is the fact that we have history--and that we celebrate that history. More than any other sport, college football is built on--and thrives on--its traditions. Rivalries are among the most cherished traditions we have. They must be honored.
Look, I know I'm tilting at windmills here. I know the Penn State-Pitt game will most likely never return--especially if the Big Ten adds another regular season game to the mix. I know, at the end of the day, Penn State officials will take the money over the tradition. I know that, for now, a rather meaningless two-game series is as good as it's going to get for those of us who simply want to see the two flagship programs of Pennsylvania football face off every season, like they did for decades, back when tradition counted for something.
But I'm sorry, a two-game series is not good enough.
It's not good enough for Pitt.
It's not good enough for Penn State.
It's not good enough for Pennsylvania football.
It's not good enough for college football.
We deserve better.
Photo: Joe Paterno isn't to blame, Pitt fans. Money is. (Getty Images)