Saunders: Pitt’s Facilities Not Providing Level Playing Field
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Pitt’s women’s basketball team was walloped by Louisville on Sunday, dropping a 70-42 decision to the Cardinals and completing a weekend sweep of both Pitt basketball teams by Louisville.
It wasn’t a particularly surprising defeat, considering the Cardinals entered the game ranked No. 4 in the country and Pitt has yet to win a game in ACC play this season.
It also wasn’t particularly surprising because it’s Pitt and Louisville — a combination that hasn’t typically gone well for the Panthers.
The Pitt men beat Louisville at the Pete earlier this season for their first win since 2010, snapping an 0-for-12 streak against the Cardinals. It’s even worse for the women, who have now lost 13 straight against Louisville, a streak that also dates back to 2010. As ACC basketball opponents, the Panthers are a combined 1-18 against the Cardinals.
Of course, there are probably good reasons for that. Louisville has had a pair of well-regarded coaches in Rick Pitino and Jeff Walz and Pitino’s ouster and replacement by Chris Mack seems to have done little to slow the Cardinals down.
But it’s a streak that goes beyond basketball. Pitt and Louisville don’t regularly compete in football due to the ACC’s crossover schedule, with the Panthers winning the lone recent matchup. But they do face off in baseball, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, women’s tennis and women’s volleyball. It’s a series of matchups that haven’t gone well for Pitt.
The Panthers’ baseball team is 0-6 against Louisville in the ACC and has lost 12 straight against the Cardinals overall. Pitt’s men’s soccer team is 0-3 against Louisville in ACC play and has lost at least five straight. Women’s soccer is 1-4 in ACC play against the Cardinals. The Panthers softball team is 3-5 in the ACC and has won 3 of its last 16 overall against Louisville. Pitt’s tennis team is 1-3 against the Cardinals in the ACC.
Only Pitt’s ultra-successful volleyball team has a meaningful winning record against the Cardinals in the ACC, and even they are only 3-2 against them.
The biggest common factor in Louisville’s success is money. According to EADA data filed with the US Department of Education, Pitt’s athletic department budget was $84.8 million last year. Louisville’s was $120.4 million, nearly half again as much.
Money doesn’t necessarily buy wins in college sports, but the one thing that it can buy is facilities, and a quick trip around Louisville’s campus this weekend put the difference between the two schools in stark contrast.
The downtown KFC Yum! Center, for one, is a marvel, a 22,000-seat venue that cost $238 million when it was built in 2010. It’s bigger, nicer and newer than Pitt’s on-campus Petersen Events Center. Cardinal Stadium, while slightly older and smaller than Heinz Field, has been regularly updated and expanded, and has the added advantages of being on Louisville’s campus and being owned and operated by the university.
But it goes so much further than that. Louisville baseball’s Jim Patterson Stadium seats 4,000 and cost $8.5 million when it was built in 2005. Lynn Stadium (soccer) cost $18.5 million, seats 5,300, was built in 2014, and includes a soccer-exclusive indoor training facility. Ulmer Stadium, home to Louisville softball, seats 2,500 after a $3.5 million expansion project in 2014.
Pitt’s Petersen Sports Complex houses those same four teams across three fields and seats 2,235 combined.
Pitt is closing its women’s tennis program, which plays 20 miles away in Wexford. Just look at Louisville’s Bass-Rudd Tennis Center:
Louisville’s Ralph Wright Natatorium was built in 2013. Pitt’s Trees Pool was built in 1962.
Then there’s the sports Louisville has beautiful facilities for that Pitt doesn’t even sponsor:
• G. Garvin Brown III Rowing Center ($2.65 million in 2011)
• U of L Lacrosse Stadium ($2 million in 2006)
• Musselman Golf Center ($600,000 in 2017) and U of L Golf Club
• a 2,200-seat stadium dedicated to track and field
• 1,500-seat Trager Stadium for field hockey and its attached indoor facility for that sport
• Marshall Center, a weight-training facility exclusively for Louisville’s olympic sports and separate from the Trager Center indoor football practice facility ($8 million) and Planet Fitness Kueber Center ($15.2 million in 2007) for basketball.
There’s a good reason that Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke has made the Victory Heights project one of the signature pieces of her agenda: the facilities for Pitt’s sports teams are woeful in comparison, and Louisville is not the only team that can trump the Panthers, though the Cardinals may have the best in the league from top to bottom.
Yes, there is probably an argument to be made that the former Louisville administration did some under-handed things and dealt with undesirable people in order to make those facilities what they are. But they aren’t going to get un-built. That’s still what Pitt has to compete with.
Lyke has used the phrase “comprehensive excellence” over and over again since she came to Pitt. If she’s going to expect that from her coaches and her teams, the funding of Victory Heights and other facilities upgrades for Pitt’s athletics programs must come through.
Excellence is nearly impossible when Pitt’s teams aren’t playing on a level field.
It helps that a former faculty member of the University is the leader of the US Senate. In fact, he forced Louisville on the ACC. He had discussions with at least one senator from North Carolina on this very subject. At the time UCONN was the preferred candidate to add to the conference but it couldn’t move quickly enough and McConnell swooped in. How much money do you think he has directed to the school? It’s a lot like Senator Byrd of West Virginia and all the money he directed to his state. You really think the FBI wanted their… Read more »