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2017-18: The Worst Pitt Season Ever?



For most people, being a Pitt fan comes with a certain bit of self-loathing. The people that turned “Pitting” into a verb — with the denotation that a defeat was in the process of being snatched from the hands of victory — generally have a pretty good idea of the program’s history when it comes to team success at the highest level.

Pitt has never won an NCAA-sanctioned national championship in any sport and in football, where the program claims nine national titles, none have come since 1976. In the interim, there’s been plenty of good years in some of Pitt’s most important sports, from football team’s 2005 Fiesta Bowl appearance to men’s basketball’s 2009 run to the Elite Eight Eight. 

There have also been plenty of down years. In at least one regard, this past season might’ve been the worst.

Football, men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling have long been the four most publicly visible team sports for the Panthers. The 2017-18 school year featured a down year for all four programs.

The football team went 5-7, including a loss to arch-rival Penn State, and missed a bowl game for the first time in 10 years. The men’s basketball team went 8-24, including a winless ACC slate, and ended with the firing of head coach Kevin Stallings. The same fate awaited women’s basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, whose Panthers finished the season 2-14 and out of postseason play for the third straight season. It was also a trying first season for new wrestling coach Keith Gavin, as Pitt finished 4-11 in dual meets and finished dead last at the ACC Tournament.

Obviously, that was a bad year. How bad? The worst ever, when comparing conference records.

The quality and difficulty of non-conference records changes pretty dramatically from team to team and year to year, but judging teams based on their record against conference rivals should be fair game.

In the ACC, this season’s Pitt teams went 3-5 in football, 0-18 in men’s basketball, 2-14 in women’s basketball and 2-3 in wrestling. That’s an average winning percentage of 22.5 percent in Pitt’s four most visible sports. Since the Big East started sponsoring football in 1991, that’s the worst mark for Pitt’s marquee programs, landing just short of the 26.1 average posted in 1995-96.

Here’s the full list since 1991:

Yet, there still seems to be a sense of optimism around the program. Athletic director Heather Lyke got a six-year contract extension in April, following the hiring of new basketball coaches Jeff Capel and Lance White. Football coach Pat Narduzzi got an extension in December.

The Panthers are also experiencing success in some of their less visible programs. The volleyball team won the school’s second-ever ACC team tile, the gymnastics team made the NCAA Tournament, the softball team came one out from winning an ACC title, and the baseball team made the semifinals in its first ACC Tournament.

Maybe the success in other sports will result in a more well-rounded athletic department that doesn’t require success in one of the top-flight sports as a source of pride. Maybe the top-flight sports will turn things around with some changes.

Either way, Pitt fans can rest assured that the worst is behind them.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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