November 21, 2011

Muted Start to Brawl Week

Filed under: Football,Schedule — Chas @ 2:25 pm

Maybe it’s the overall “meh” situation of the Big East this year. Maybe it’s the fact that both Pitt and WVU fanbases already have headed for the Big East exits. Maybe it’s just the disappointment both fanbases have had from the expectations heading into the season. But it’s a little bit of a slow start. I expect by Friday, the hate and vitriol will be free-flowing.

Right now, however, it seems the biggest issue is will the Backyard Brawl take place once Pitt and WVU are out of the Big East? So the media bent is starting with some resignation, demands to continue and questions.

Joe Starkey pleads for the Backyard Brawl not to end.

Athletic directors Steve Pederson (Pitt) and Oliver Luck (WVU) owe it to the fans to play every year. I just wonder if the will is there. I’ve spoken with both men. Neither sounded as if he were ready to move the Blue Ridge Mountains to make this happen.

Not that either nixed the idea. They could have gone Kansas-crazy, but did not. Kansas officials tweeted the following after Missouri announced it was bolting the Big 12:

“Missouri forfeits a century-old rivalry. We win.”

That’s the spirit!

No. Both sides are hedging at the moment.

First of all, for all the WVU bluster, there is no guarantee they are getting to the Big 12 next year. So, popping off right away could be a really dumb thing if both schools are still in the Big East in 2012. Then there’s the fact that Oliver Luck has had to dial it back from his early October spouting off implying Pitt might need the Backyard Brawl more than WVU for attendance.

Now you could argue that keeping the Brawl is in WVU’s interest. Not only for the fans, but money. Not only is it nearly guaranteed to get a national broadcast, but with all the travel WVU will have in its future in the Big 12, a game that is literally a short drive away has a lot more appeal and value. In fact, while hardly definitive, it would seem that WVU AD Luck is coming around on the issue.

As fierce as the WVU-Pitt rivalry is – belying a lopsided 61-39-3 edge by the Panthers – the schools are said to be on the same page on whether or not to play on. After all, only the last 20 meetings have been conference games.

“I can tell you that (Pitt Athletic Director) Steve Pederson and I have spoken about it more than once,” West Virginia AD Oliver Luck told me Friday, “and I think our views on it are very similar – which is to say pretty much identical.

“We both have a strong desire to maintain the rivalry. Now, we know we face questions about the next couple, three years, but it’s safe to say we both want to continue playing each other as soon as we can.”

Pitt athletics issued a generic statement to me last week when I asked about the Backyard Brawl future:

“At this juncture, with both institutions set to join new leagues, it would be difficult to predict what opportunities will be available with future non-conference scheduling.”

E.J. Borghetti, Pitt’s fine senior associate AD for media relations, expounded further in a somewhat personal fashion.

“Everyone loves neighborhood rivalries,” Borghetti said. “But the neighborhood, in this case Eastern football, is changing – quickly and dramatically. What is that going to mean for the future of the Backyard Brawl?

“As a kid, I never thought I’d see the day when Pitt and Penn State didn’t play every November. Penn State’s move to the Big Ten had a significant hand in changing that. Certainly there is a desire to keep age-old traditions alive, but ultimately both schools will need to see what opportunities are available once future conference schedules are set.”

Pitt has consistently been much more non-committal about the Backyard Brawl since they announced the move to the ACC.

Beyond that, Pitt will then join the ACC at some point — 2014 at the latest — and there is talk that when that league officially welcomes Pitt and Syracuse to get to 14 teams, it will switch to a nine-game conference schedule (as opposed to eight) and that means there would be room on Pitt’s schedule for only three nonconference games.

If that is the case, according to one person with knowledge of the situation, the Panthers are going to try and schedule two games they consider “winnable home games” — translation: Division I-AA teams or teams from smaller conferences — leaving room for one home-and-home game with a major opponent.

That said, the school would like to maintain its series with Notre Dame.

Both Pitt and West Virginia have said they’d like to try and keep the series alive. But they concede it probably isn’t realistic to think it will be an annual game like it has been since 1943.

The move to nine conference games for both may do more to to doom the Brawl than anything else. From a cost and conference standpoint, going to 12 makes a lot of sense for the ACC and Big 12. Your schools don’t have to work so hard or pay as much to fill the non-con slate. Plus, 9-game conference slates make the conference TV contract that much more attractive when you can offer more inventory. The Big 12 is also planning on going to a 9-game conference schedule.

At the same time it can be hell on rivalry games outside the conference. The ACC, SEC and Big 10 have stayed with the 8-game schedule to this point. It has allowed the continuation of non-con rivalry games like Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida St., Georgia-GT, and even Michigan-ND. A move by any of those conferences to 9-game schedules puts them into question as yearly events. Admittedly a game like Florida-FSU is mandated by Florida law. Plus all of those are in-state rivalries, where internal pressure tends to be stronger. Though, uh, that is not always the case. Texas and Texas A&M seem happy to see their rivalry game come to an end. Texas in annoyance at the Aggies for leaving, A&M because there’s no way they would admit that they want to keep playing a game when Texas doesn’t.

Only USC has kept its non-con rivalry with Notre Dame despite a 9-game conference schedule.

There is also the theory that Pitt might want to be hedging even more considering the sudden upheaval at Penn State, and how it might effect the non-playing of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry for the long term. Here’s Rod Rutherford talking about both.

Rod Rutherford knows how rivalries end — with a 6-foot-2 Pittsburgh quarterback running into the end zone for the only touchdown in a 12-0 win over Penn State.

That was in 2000, and the Panthers and Nittany Lions haven’t played since. Rutherford, a native of Pittsburgh who was recruited by Pitt and rivals Penn State and West Virginia, will be the last man to score a touchdown in the rivalry at least until 2016, when the teams are scheduled to resume the series with a home-and-home.

Entering that last game, Rutherford and the Panthers had heard the prevailing thought: Penn State coach Joe Paterno was only willing to play Pitt one time in Pittsburgh for every two times in State College. Pitt had too much pride to allow that, and Paterno knew it.

“In our locker room, we felt like it was them that was ending the rivalry,” Rutherford said. “It wasn’t us. They felt like they were better than us.”

Rutherford played Penn State his first two seasons but not his last two. He says the “Backyard Brawl” between Pitt and West Virginia is now the biggest rivalry. Of course, with Pitt leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference and West Virginia leaving for the Big 12, that rivalry could be on the outs, too.

“That’s sad because Penn State is only two and a half hours away, and West Virginia is one and a half,” Rutherford said. “To not play those schools, who all pull from western Pennsylvania, it’s disappointing that you can’t watch a good rivalry now. It’s just sad that college football has turned into this much of a business that people lose sight of the fans and the things that made schools what they are today.”

I wrote about it last month, and my feelings still hold. The Backyard Brawl is a great rivalry game, and we are lucky to be a part of it. So many other fanbases — especially in the East — don’t have a great football rivalry to enjoy. Boston College, Maryland, Rutgers, UConn, USF, Wake Forest and Penn State. Sure, they may claim to hate another team they play fairly regularly, but does it flow evenly? Is there the same hate right back or is it a distant second or further in terms of games they absolutely want to win every year?

Rivalries don’t just come into being with the creation of a trophy or declaration (Land Grant or River City). They aren’t fully formed about after a 10 year run of competitive, high stakes games (Pitt-UConn basketball), it only means it is gestating and has potential. They don’t come about because one fanbase decides they should be the rival.

I have to admit being a little surprised and disappointed that so many WVU and Pitt fans seem so willing — even eager to let go of the Backyard Brawl. So entranced by the possibilities that lie in their respective future conference homes. The shiny, new thing trumping years of hate, animosity and bitterness.

I hate the Hoopies, and take great joy in seeing Pitt beat them. That was the feeling before the Big East and I see no reason that should change because of changing conferences.

I could careless if we ever play WVU again on any stage. Penn State is a no brainer. Notre Dame is a no brainer. Both are respectful institutions (Sandusky and mediocreness withstanding) that we should play; heck add Ohio State too…but WVU…no way. Throw one on the schedule every four or five years to appease the masses, but I could care less if play them in a home/home setup.

Comment by PaulyP 11.21.11 @ 2:54 pm

Opening line for the game…WVU by 7.5.
Sounds about right. Pitt will have to play inspired and mistake free ball to win. I hope our backs remember last year when the 3 of the Hoops tackled Lewis (may have been Graham)as he left his feet trying for a first down, physically held him off the ground and stripped the ball. To me, it seemed like a whistle should have stopped that play. That was the end for Pitt.

I have to say….I like our chances.

Comment by Dan 72 11.21.11 @ 3:34 pm

@ PaulyP. Have you ever actually ATTENDED a Backyard Brawl game in person? Have you ever rubbed shoulders with any truly home grown Mountaineer fans, I’m talking about the “real Hoopies” not actual students and/or alumni?

Regarding my general interaction with that social class, my experiences have been, lets say “less than favorable”. At least you can see them coming when they show up on a cold game night decked out in their best Sunday “go to meetin” camouflage or contrasting fluorescent orange duds.

My point, I think that we should continue the rivalry simply because it gives Pitt fans such a feeling of satisfaction to beat those PIAs.

Plus we’ve been doing it for over a hundred years already. As they sing it in “The Fiddler on the Roof, TRADITION”!!

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.21.11 @ 3:37 pm

I have really mixed feelings on the WVU rivalry. On the one hand, it actually is a rivalry (not manufactured, not made for TV, etc.), and there are fewer and fewer of those. That being said, I’m not sure why I should want to continue a rivalry that I don’t feel safe taking my own daughter to the game. Too many idiots, too much vulgarity, too little effort on the part of the powers that be in Morgantown to actually control it.

The one thing I really can’t stand is the need to schedule 2 rent-a-wins each season. I get that they want to get to the magic number to go to a bowl, but as a fan, I get very little excitement from seeing games against MAC teams, let alone 1-AA teams.

Comment by Pantherman13 11.21.11 @ 3:46 pm

Chas, I’m with you 100% A true rivalry is one felt by both teams. That appears not be the case with PSU, and certainly not the case with ND which considers USC, Mich, MSU and maybe even Purdue, BC and Navy a bigger rival than Pitt.

I propose a new Labor Day Night tradition of starting the college FB season with the Backyard Brawl … ESPN has been televising it for years; no reason why they wouldn’t want to continue.

Comment by wbb 11.21.11 @ 4:10 pm

BTW, we’ll see if Puskar Stadium is filled on Friday …. you may remember how many open seats there were for the ND game at Heinz in September this year – it was NOT a sellout

Comment by wbb 11.21.11 @ 4:14 pm

WVU is a no brainer for a game, PSU and ND are not. These are not real rivalries anymore. ND could care less about Pitt and has several teams they see as larger rivals. PSU no matter how ridiculous it is does not have the same hatred for Pitt that it once did. Screw those games and keep WVU. The fact that some are so disgusted by their fans, and school that they don’t want to play them shows how big of a rivalry it is. How much more do you want to kick the crap out of what you consider a horrible, institution that you do a resectful institution. I hate the hoopies and that makes the game great. I hope it never ends or that will be two of the greatest rivalries in college FB that pitt was once a part of that fell apart because of not playing. Keep this game going, it is the only one that is filled with actual hatred at this point.

Comment by OntarioLett'sGoPitt 11.21.11 @ 4:25 pm

I’m with ya pantherman. This cupcake crap needs to stop.

You want to play one, ok, fine, a warm-up game.

I know they need the home games to make money, and pad the schedule. I get all of that, doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I don’t fault Pitt, I know everyone does it, the way of the college football world.

For my money, I’d rather play Purdue in a good game with a 50/50 chance of winning, than play Ball State and a guaranteed win. And sometimes those guaranteed wins aren’t wins!!!

As for the rivalry, I’d rather play Penn State every year myself, but, I would hope they can keep the Backyard Brawl going if possible.

With the better money coming from the ACC, why can’t we just have one cupcake, instead of two the more I think about it????

1 cupcake
1 game with another top conference team
9 conf games.

They couldn’t budget for every other year missing one extra home game???

I’m just blathering now!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by Dan 11.21.11 @ 4:34 pm

The people in WVU genuinely hate us. Not so much in return. I think we find them annoying…and pesty…like a bug.

5 of my friends from Baldwin went to WVU and I could not get over the change in them on seeing them after their freshman year. They had “WE HATE PITT” and UNDER THE ARM Pitt shirts on in July before the next season. AT Pitt, I later dated a girl who was engaged to a “Snake” football player. When he found out, he dumped her.

The bottom line is that they genuinely hate us.
That is why it is so enjoyable to beat them as we will again this year.

Comment by Dan 72 11.21.11 @ 4:45 pm

Hey, here’s one for way down the road, they won’t even decide until next year, but, the talk, and I personally am very happy about it, is most of the ACC ath. directors seem to favor keeping the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, and putting Pitt in one, and Syracuse in another.

The north/south thing had been floated, and actually still will be (as I said, very early), but it didn’t get a lot of praise.

Would be like a Big East II for the north division, and some of the southern teams would only get “north” once in awhile for recruting and vice-versa.

Everyone seems to like the balance they have now.

I’m all for it, tell us where to go. Don’t need any Big East II. It’s the ACC. Done.

Comment by Dan 11.21.11 @ 4:48 pm

My preference is that we renew the annual rivalry with Penn State. Given their current situation they would probably more inclined to restart it. Of course, we have to wait to see who is finally put in charge before they can be approached. I would rather play WVU than Notre Dame as my second choice.

Comment by John In South Carolina 11.21.11 @ 5:41 pm

RichRod heading to AZ. According to CFT…may be seeing our first and last season of Calvin McGee.


Comment by DaveD 11.21.11 @ 6:13 pm

DaveD, I was wondering the same thing about McGee and may be Tony Gibson also. Arizona has some deep pockets.

Wonder if he would consider T Bradley for DC .. certainly better than Greg Robinson

Comment by wbb 11.21.11 @ 6:50 pm

Oh man. The Twitter and news wire here in Tucson is BURNING UP!!!! PenisRod is apparently the new AZ Wildcats coach.

Comment by cnorwoodaz 11.21.11 @ 6:50 pm

As we all know college sports is all about the dollar and everything else takes a backseat…

The people that donate the big bucks to Pitt Football would much rather have a road trip to Notre Dame than to WVU. Who wants to go to a game where you have to worry about getting crap thrown on you during the game or worry about your car tires? (Also Pitt would save money since they don’t have to hire extra security for the WVU game at Heniz field every other year.

I normally go to both ND and WVU away games and it would be nice to see both games stay..but if we can only have one I too would much rather keep ND than WVU for same reasons.

Comment by milo bloom 11.21.11 @ 7:39 pm


Comment by FRANKCAN 11.21.11 @ 7:41 pm

All we really need is for Notre Dame to join the ACC then we can have still have both games….maybe not in near future..but I bet in next ten years Notre Dame is in the ACC.

Comment by milo bloom 11.21.11 @ 7:42 pm

That’s funny…..a Pitt man at AZ. as hoops coach and a Hoopie Dickrod for the football coach.

Should make for some fun poker games and whatnot.

Guess AZ wants to really screw up their football program.

Comment by EMel 11.21.11 @ 8:16 pm

OH I’d much prefer to play the Golden Domers.

Excellent institution and a classy fan base.
If we ever get better and become a Top 15 team again consistently, ND will start hating us like they do in hoops. You beat a team enough and they start hating you.

This is first and last time Tinny will be playing in Hooterville. Will he be able to handle the atmosphere? (ie. the drunken necks and their slurs concerning Pitt)

Comment by EMel 11.21.11 @ 8:20 pm

After all is said, Pitt is a wrestling school.

Comment by steve 11.21.11 @ 8:50 pm

I think more Pitt fans would be interested in keeping the rivalry with the hoopies if they could take females and children to the game with them; could trust the local law enforcement; and didn’t have to rent a car to drive down there; wear a mouth-piece and old or fluid-resistant/flame retardant clothing; carry a firearm in the vehicle for protection on the drive out of town…

Comment by apm74 11.21.11 @ 9:13 pm

Serious talk at Ped State about having to take the “death penalty” for a year to avoid the NCAA giving it to them for five. They are too gutless to do it themselves.

Comment by Dan 72 11.21.11 @ 10:26 pm

Wow, I was beat down hard yesterday for commenting about the lack of buzz regarding the game. Hey, I’m a Pitt fan and want to win as much as anyone. I was commenting on the media. I also think the overall viewership and ratings will be down, because of two underperforming teams.

Also, we are in the ACC, rivalries will change. It would be great if we could play WV, PSU and ND on a rotating basis. However, they will never have the same intensity.

Wall Street Journal on JoePa a real eye opener about hypocrisy. The Penn State Way.

Comment by gc 11.22.11 @ 7:21 am

@gc again. I agree with the assessment that “media” isn’t hyping the Backyard Brawl this year because of the condition of the BE this year as well as the other block busting headlines surrounding Penn State, conference realignments, suits, etc.

“Enthusiasm” isn’t lacking for the fan bases of either university however. AND, believe it or not, the game remains relevent regarding the BE Championship. Isn’t that kind of sad actually? But no matter, everybody involved in the Brawl still wants to kick each others asses so it will be fun to watch. I sure hope that we come out on top this year. Todd Graham could use it for his ego.

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.22.11 @ 11:54 am

I grew up around Pittsburgh and have been living in southern West Virginia for over 20 years and I can tell you these Hoopies HATE Pitt with a passion, much moreso than we Panther Fans dislike the classless Mountaineers. They would LOVE to be going to the ACC and have natural rivalries like Pitt, Maryland, Va Tech and Virginia but WVU is not in the same class as those more prestigious schools and they know it and it kills them. In about 4 or 5 years after playing the Baylors, Texas Techs and Kansas and getting stomped by the other Big 12 schools, WVU will be worse off than they are now. It will be tough for them to recruit a good PA or New Jersey kid to play in the Big 12 on a consistent basis, playing all their away games 1200 miles away. WVU needs Pitt way more than we need those Hill Billy trolls. I say grace them with a Pitt game every 5 years.

Comment by Pitt Fan in Hoopieland 11.22.11 @ 12:39 pm

[…] discusses the future of the Backyard Brawl. With Pitt going to the ACC and West Virginia to the Big 12, the rivalry is in jeopardy. I will say […]

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