With the announcement last week of ND coming to the ACC, lead to the discussion of schedules. On the football side, there was the acknowledgment that Pitt-ND games will change from a yearly game to a once-every-three (or two)-years action. That would open the door to putting Penn State on the schedule with more frequency. And indeed, following AD Steve Pederson’s comments suggesting it, the acting PSU AD echoed the growing possibility.
[David] Joyner, Penn State’s acting athletic director, told the Tribune-Review on Friday he hopes to visit Pederson in Pittsburgh during the football season. Any face-to-face discussions wouldn’t be just about resuming the once-great rivalry, but Joyner acknowledged it would be a significant part of his visit.
“There certainly is a philosophical meeting of the minds,” Joyner said. “It would be very interesting to look to see if we can make it happen, to have more games in the future.”
The Big 10 just had their planned annual games with the Pac-12 fall apart because of the Pac-12 playing 9 conference games annually, and teams like Stanford and USC that regularly play ND. The Big 10 still plays 8 conference games, but Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delaney has been publicly saying that the Big 10 schools need to do a better job on non-con scheduling.
Almost certainly Pitt will be playing PSU in basketball soon. If not in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, then as a scheduled non-con.
So there’s that, but what about WVU?
After Pitt got the invite to the ACC, but before the Big 12 needed to get WVU, the WVU AD Oliver Luck spoke a little too quickly about how much Pitt needs the Backyard Brawl. Reality actually suggests otherwise. Pitt has an easier time finding teams willing to do home-and-homes in football. More so than WVU.
Yes, WVU travels well. Yes, there is excitement over WVU in the Big 12 by their fans. But there is still a question of how long that enthusiasm lasts for the games against Kansas, K-State, Iowa St. and Texas Tech. The Brawl is probably a bigger deal to WVU fans than Pitt fans.
Plus, there are the travel costs. The Brawl takes on greater importance, given what the Hoopies have to spend on conference travel. A road trip to Pitt becomes a very affordable bus trip. No hotel costs. So, Luck has been a lot more conciliatory sounding regarding resuming the Backyard Brawl as soon as possible. It has become clear, though, that Pitt is not going to rush back to scheduling the Hoopies in football.
But what about basketball?
That should be different for Pitt. As we saw with this off-season scheduling headaches, Pitt is struggling to put a decent non-con schedule that provides any reward to season ticket-holders. Pitt is not a place like Kentucky where the fanbase will mutter but ultimately bend-over and take a laughably bad home non-con slate.
It seems, though, that the Backyard Brawl in basketball is not looking promising right now.
[Bob] Huggins said Monday he has told Jamie Dixon he’d like to restart the rivalry as soon as possible, but the Pittsburgh coach has been non-committal. Next season will be the first year since 1918 that the two longtime regional rivals have not faced one-another during the basketball season.
“I’ve said we’re willing to play,” Huggins said. “It’s a great rivalry. Why wouldn’t we play Pitt? You want to talk about the betterment of the student-athlete and doing what’s right by the student-athlete? We’re talking about an hour and a half drive. We’re not talking about flying across the country. It just makes sense. There’s not a downside.
“It’s great for the fans. The players really enjoy it. You can play the game and be home. There’s no problem waking up and going to class the next day. You’re not missing class time. All the reasons anyone could give for starting a series or maintaining a series, they’re all there. They’re all positive.”
Huggins, however, is better at the politics than his AD. Coach Dixon has been quite vague about the whole issue of the Brawl — and scheduling in general. But Huggins isn’t going to be accused of trying to put the blame on Dixon since the basketball coach has a lot of the responsibility for setting the schedule.
“When I’ve talked to Jamie about it, it was kind of like, ‘We’ll have to see,’” Huggins said. “I don’t know how much of it is Jamie’s call or not. That’s what I think. I don’t know either way, but I wouldn’t put it all on Jamie. Or even any of it on Jamie.”
Maybe it is the AD and/or Chancellor at Pitt is ordering a break from the Hoopies after last year. Maybe it is simply Dixon waiting to get a feel for how things go in the ACC first. Maybe it is part of linked negotiations between Pitt and WVU where the Hoopies want to make sure the football side resumes as well, but Pitt won’t do that.
I’ve made no secret that I want to keep playing the Hoopies. In both sports. The games are too good. The hate is real. And true, time-tested rivalries are one of the great things in sport.
Reality says that WVU becomes more rotational in football, given a 9-game conference schedule. Along with rotating ND and hopefully PSU regularly for Pitt. There is, however, no reason not to play in basketball annually. FSU does it with Florida, Clemson and South Carolina as well as Georgia Tech and Georgia all do so.
Let the hiatus be brief.