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Steigerwald: Athletics Over Academics



Pitt/Cathedral of Learning

Maybe Pitt just doesn’t cheat enough.

I’ve been saying that for 15 or 20 years, maybe longer, and I got the idea from a scout who said that to me a long time ago. He also said it about Duquesne basketball when I asked why similar programs – Catholic schools in urban settings – were able to make long runs in the NCAA basketball tournament and Duquesne was an embarrassment.  I’ve only been kidding a little when I’ve said it or written it about Pitt, but I’m beginning to believe it more than ever.

The Pitt football team, coming off a loss to North Carolina State is working on another wasted football season as it has been for most of the last 35 years. Nobody expects the 2017-18 Pitt basketball season to be anything short of a disaster.

But look at what Pitt’s competitors have been doing.

They’ve been cheating.

Maybe I missed it but I can’t think of any serious NCAA infraction by Pitt in either of the major sports.

Dave Wannstedt would still be the football coach if his team hadn’t had too many arrests and off the field embarrassments. But, in college football in the 21st century, it’s not about which program has the most arrest-prone players. It’s about which program has the most kids caught.

While Pitt was trying to compete against Miami in football when both were in the Big East, Miami was contending for Mythical National Championships and showing up in the Top 5.

As it turns out Miami’s players were getting paid by boosters for touchdowns and big hits from 1986-1992 and the NCAA discovered that the coaches were aware.

An academic advisor was discovered helping 57 players falsify Pell Grant applications from 1989 to 1992. It’s the largest fraud ever committed against Pell Grants. The NCAA said $412,000 in excessive aid was paid to Miami “student” athletes.

Nevin Shapiro is serving 20 years in prison right now for money laundering and who knows what else. He claims to have given at least $2 million in illegal benefits to at least 72 University of Miami players from 2002 to 2010 and that doesn’t count the parties on his yacht.

How many Pitt football coaches had to compete with that when trying to recruit kids from Florida?

Pitt doesn’t play in the same conference as Ohio State but competes with it for local kids, who are offered a chance to play pretty close to home in front of 100,000 fans.

Jim Tressell spent 10 years there and said he wasn’t aware that players were trading Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos. He also said he wasn’t aware that Maurice Clarett and other players were taking money from boosters. Sports Illustrated uncovered eight years of violations.

Penn State was squeaky clean under Joe Paterno when it came to NCAA violations, but how many kids did Joe recruit out from under a Pitt coach’s nose because of the saintly image he maintained as a result of looking the other way while Jerry Sandusky did his dirty work?

Pitt had to compete for players with St. Joe for 40 years.

Pitt is in the same conference with North Carolina now, a program that maintained its status as one of the best in the country by, for 20 years, offering bogus classes for basketball and football players and giving scholarship to  kids who couldn’t read The Cat in the Hat.

Has Pitt been bending admission requirements? Probably. They all do. But giving scholarships to illiterates? I don’t think so.

Jamie Dixon kept Pitt competitive in the Big East for a long time. He was competing against Jim Boeheim, one of college basketball’s legendary and most successful coaches.

Turns out Jim was totally unaware that his kids were getting tutors to do their work for them and taking large amounts of money from boosters who gave them no-show jobs.

Were the same things going on under Jamie Dixon’s nose and he just didn’t get caught?

Not likely.

Pitt alumni and fans are frustrated because the football and basketball programs keep disappointing them. They desperately want Pitt to be mentioned in the same breath as Ohio State and Alabama in football and North Carolina and Syracuse in basketball.

Apparently, they’re not impressed by Pitt’s comparatively squeaky clean reputation on non-football and non-basketball matters.

Would they be okay with pay-for-play and “students” who can’t read multi-syllabic words?

Unfortunately, many would.

They need to get word to the new athletic director and the new chancellor and tell them they want more cheating.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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