Fans of Pittsburgh-Penn State rivalry are going to have to wait after 2019

Penn St-Northwestern Football-28042018-0013
Former Penn State running back tries to stiff arm newly minted Eagles defensive back Avonte Maddox during the most recent installment of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry.

Fans of Penn State and Pittsburgh football were excited when the celebrated intrastate rivalry between the two universities resumed in 2016 after a 16-year hiatus. The first game in Pittsburgh drew the largest crowd in Heinz Field history, and the return contest brought an overflow crowd of almost 110,000 to Beaver Stadium.

The series has two more years – the 99th and 100th all-time meetings – to run under its current contract and then … what? Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke has suggested that the teams resume the series in 2026, but the Nittany Lions have been lukewarm to the idea.

In fact, as Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said Wednesday, the next best time after the final meeting next year would be more than a decade away, or “something beyond 2030.”

“Pitt and Penn State have been in conversations trying to look at how we can make it work,” Barbour said at the Nittany Lions’ Coaches’ Caravan stop in Center City. “I think based on ACC requirements, Big Ten requirements, the puzzle that is scheduling, we’ve decided that we’re not even going to look at anything right now.

“It will have to be something beyond 2030. Based on theirs and ours [requirements], that’s what we decided would be the ‘beyond’ point.”

After the Pitt series ends, the Lions have one Power Five nonconference game on every schedule through 2025 – home-and-home contests against Virginia Tech in 2020 and 2025, Auburn in 2021 and 2022, and West Virginia in 2023 and 2024.

Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin said scheduling the Panthers is a matter of perspective.

“If you’re looking at the Pitt-Penn State series as just the Pitt-Penn State series, yeah, it’s been fantastic, it’s been awesome,” he said. “There’s an excitement, there’s a buzz about it. I think it’s really good for the state of Pennsylvania. Obviously we’re keeping a game that has some historical value to it as well, so all those things are wonderful.”

There is a “but,” however. Penn State plays a nine-game schedule in the Big Ten, including one game against each of its six rivals in the Big Ten East, one of the toughest divisions in the country. That’s supposed to impress the College Football Playoff selection committee, but Franklin isn’t so sure.

“Strength of schedule is a huge part, or was supposed to be a huge part of the selection committee, but that hasn’t panned out,” Franklin said. “You wouldn’t necessarily say that after looking at it the last couple of years on how that’s played out.

“So what you have to do is, based on your institution, based on your program, you have to do everything in your power to be undefeated and win the conference championship. All the other variables, you can’t control them, so [you need to control] everything you possibly can, especially when you play in the Big Ten East.

“There’s going to be different people that come off the committee, people that come on the committee, and they’re all going to have their personal biases,” Franklin said. “So, for me, if Pitt makes sense and it helps us with that, then wonderful. But for me, I’m looking at what can we do to put Penn State in the best position to win conference championships and to have a chance to get into the playoffs.”

The home team won the first two Pitt-Penn State games in the current series. The next meeting will be Sept. 8 at Heinz Field.