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Penn State-Pitt to resume in 2016

Nittany Lions agree to in-state series after Miami pulls out

June 15, 2011
By Cory Giger ( , The Altoona Mirror

It may never be the rivalry it once was, but at least it will be a rivalry once again.

Penn State and Pittsburgh will resume the great Keystone State football rivalry in 2016 and 2017. The teams have met on the gridiron 96 times - with PSU holding a 50-42-4 lead - but have not played since 2000.

The drought will end at 16 years when Penn State visits Heinz Field on Sept. 10, 2016. It's a one-for-one, home-and-home series, and the Panthers will travel to Beaver Stadium on Sept. 16, 2017.

"I can't imagine - no matter where they play - that there will be an empty seat," said Altoona native Troy Benson, who played for Pitt in the 1980s.

For now, it doesn't appear the series will last longer than two years. This scenario probably would not have happened at all had Penn State not encountered a scheduling issue in 2016 and 2017.

"We had a series scheduled in '16 and '17 with another school that ended up going in another direction, and it left an opening on our schedule," Penn State Director of Athletics Tim Curley said.

That school was The University of Miami (Fla.), which would have given PSU a marquee home-and-home series with a national program.

"We had a very strong verbal commitment with the University of Miami, and we felt like that was gonna work for us," Curley said. "Unfortunately it fell apart."

Curley contacted Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson a week ago, and after being unable to reach a deal for more than a decade, it took just a few days to agree to resuming the series.

"We got this put together pretty quickly," Pederson said.

Why? Essentially because Penn State was open to the arrangement, reversing course from recent years.

"Penn State had an opportunity in 2016 and 2017, and I appreciate the fact that they were willing to approach us about discussing the opening, if it could work and how it would fit into everybody's schedule," Pederson said.

The long-standing belief has been that Penn State wasn't interested in a one-for-one series with Pitt, leading many people to believe it may never happen. The Lions play in a much bigger stadium and can draw huge crowds regardless of the opponent, so agreeing to a one-for-one didn't seem to make fiscal sense.

Until, that is, Penn State found itself in a bit of a bind trying to replace Miami with another attractive opponent in 2016 and 2017.

"I don't think that they were gonna do a two-for-one," Curley said of Pitt, "so we had an opening for a two-game series."

State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, has long been a proponent of renewing the series, and there has even been speculation in recent years that the state legislature may be asked to help make it happen.

"I commend leaders from both schools for taking this decisive step toward renewing the game," Wozniak said in a statement Tuesday.

There has long been the supposed Joe Paterno factor in the series ending. The legendary Penn State coach reportedly has held a grudge against Pitt because that school chose not to enter into an Eastern all-sports conference in the 1980s.

The theory has a flaw, however, because the teams did play each other from 1997-2000.

Curley said Paterno is "supportive" of the series resuming, although the 84-year-old may not be coaching the Lions when 2016 rolls around.

Penn State's move to the Big Ten has been the biggest obstacle in renewing the series. The Lions had much more scheduling flexibility as an independent football program, but that ended in 1993 when the school joined the conference.

"Once we went into the Big Ten, that did it. ... That changed the whole perspective," Penn State football historian Lou Prato said.

Todd Graham is about to enter his first season as Pitt's head coach but said he's familiar with the rivalry.

"I remember very physical and very passionate games," Graham said. "As you talk to our former players, they remember it as the rivalry for Pitt. ... Growing up in Dallas, I watched these games. It tells you how far out that reaches - this type of rivalry."

Whether it ever will be again, there's no denying the Penn State-Pitt rivalry once ranked among the greatest in college football.

"It was one of the great games in its day," Curley said.

And in five more years, that day finally will come again.

"Certainly we're excited about this, and I think really it's exciting for college football fans," Pederson said. "It's the renewal of one of the most historic and exciting rivalries of all time."

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