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Saunders: PSU Out of Excuses for Dodging Pitt

Saunders: PSU Out of Excuses for Dodging Pitt

Pitt and Penn State will play for the 99th time next Saturday at Heinz Field. Chances are, it’ll be the last time.

It doesn’t seem like the Nittany Lions are in any hurry to resume the rivalry, which is scheduled to end after the 2019 season.

On Thursday, Penn State announced that it has scheduled a home-and-home series with Temple for the 2026 and 2027 seasons, effectively pushing back the possible resumption date of the series to 2028, and it doesn’t seem like Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour is in any hurry to get that date in the books.

By 2029, Heinz Field will be 28 years old, so there’s a better-than-even chance next Saturday will be the last time the stadium sees the two best teams in Pennsylvania square off.

And look, that isn’t exactly a big surprise. It’s been clear to me for quite some time while Penn State was scheduling West Virginia and Virginia Tech that the Lions didn’t have any real interest in renewing the rivalry.

What’s somewhat surprising is that in scheduling a Group of Five team in Temple, Penn State has essentially invalidated all of the excuse-making the program’s mouthpieces have made over the last few years for not renewing the rivalry.

“Penn State fans want to see different opponents and more high-level games” they said.

After ending its series with Pitt, Penn State will play West Virginia, which should be fun, and Auburn, which should be a nationally important game. But I can’t imagine there’s been a large clamoring of Penn State fans that have been waiting for a matchup with the Owls. If Penn State adds a Power Five game to the schedule in addition to Temple, it will most likely be a neutral-site game and not in Beaver Stadium.

“Penn State shouldn’t help Pitt sell out its stadium” they said.

This never really should have mattered to Penn State, which will likely help every team they visit sell out. It shouldn’t make much of a difference to the Lions who gets that money.

But regardless, Penn State playing Temple in a home game in Philly’s 69,000-seat Lincoln Financial Field when the Owls averaged 27,318 per game in 2017 is the ultimate charity act. One might actually be hard pressed to find a team in the country with more surplus seating available to be gobbled up by eager Penn State fans.

“Penn State needs a team that will boost their college football playoff resume” they said.

Temple, which is not only a Group of Five team, but a mediocre one, will do no such thing. Although in a roundabout way, they will. It seems that the playoff committee has been far more enamored with win totals than quality of competition and it seems likely that Penn State scheduling down is a concession to that.

That’s really the heart of the matter here. Clearly, Penn State is willing to play challenging opponents. Auburn is one of the top teams in the country year-in and year-out. West Virginia is a quality opponent and in the same vein as Pitt when it comes to historical opponents.

Clearly, something is different about Pitt that makes Penn State not want to play the Panthers. It certainly isn’t a lack of cooperation coming out of Oakland. Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke most recently proposed a four-year contract that was rebuffed by Barbour.

The last game between the teams was the second-most attended non-conference game in Beaver Stadium’s history and set a stadium attendance record in its current configuration. This year’s game will be broadcast nationally in prime time on ABC in what is largely considered to be the premier time slot in all of college football. Two years ago, it set a record as the largest-attended sporting event in Pittsburgh’s history. People care about the game, and not just Pitt fans.

It doesn’t seem that extends to the offices of Old Main. But the excuse-making needs to end. Penn State doesn’t have any good reasons left not to play Pitt other than “they just don’t want to.”

They’ve taken their ball and gone home.

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