Pitt and Penn State played the shootyhoops last night and I think most people can agree it was pretty fun for everyone involved. Thirty-five minutes of entertaining-if-not-high-quality action. A few shoves. A tasteless "hit the showers" chant. Everything a good non-conference hardwood rivalry should be.
Then Pitt coach Jamie Dixon spouted some familiar talking points about the prospects of Pitt and Penn State playing regularly. They were not the talking points his school usually spouts. (Via the Tribune-Review's Chris Adamski)
"It’d be great, but there’s like 50 games I’d like to see continued; they just don’t allow us to play that many games. You can’t do everything.
"It’s good for everybody, but now we’re in the ACC so you don’t know when you’re gonna play them or if you’re gonna play them (in the Big Ten /ACC Challenge) so it does bring some challenges, obviously.
"It’s good, but we play a lot of good teams, and whoever we don’t play, they talk about, ‘Why don’t we play them?’ And it’s the usual."
Flashback to former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley talking about scheduling Pitt in football in 2010, via the Trib's Jerry DiPaola:
Curley said discussions are underway that could result in a nine-game conference schedule — compared to the current eight — when Nebraska joins the Big Ten next year. Penn State also has unannounced, tentative agreements for non-conference games, said Jeff Nelson, the assistant athletic director for communications.
"That is one of the challenges I am struggling with as we contemplate going to nine conference games," Curley said. "That reduces your ability to move around the country to make these games happen."
"We're not sure exactly how many games we can play out of the Big Ten," Paterno said. "Financially, we have to have seven home games. If Pitt would say tomorrow, 'We'll go twice up to your place if you come once down here...' The last time we came to Pitt, they charged more money for our game than any other game."
"I personally would like to have a home-and-home series with Pitt," Paterno said. "But I don't think it's realistic right now."
"In a way (the series) was the one you feel the least regret about because it is Pitt's fault. They were the ones that chose the Big East for basketball as opposed to an all-sports conference.
"It was their call," the coach said. "It was not Penn State's call to discontinue the series. Penn State was doing everything possible to make sure we would be playing each other forever. Pitt decided that was not as important as going into the Big East for basketball.
"In a sense, it is the toughest one (among former Eastern rivalry games) for us not to play. But in a lot of ways, it is the one you feel the least at fault."
Paterno and Curley took insufferable amounts of flak for their positions, despite the fact that they weren't all that different from Dixon's last night. Pitt's once-and-current AD Steve Pederson led the charge. (via the Post-Gazette's Ron Cook in 2000).
"I just think that, regardless of the coach, athletic director or president, we should be playing Penn State every year," Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson said. "I've gone on record as saying I'd sign a 30-year deal right now."
"We're trying to play big-time football here, too," Pederson said. "If those other great schools will play me home-and-home, why should I do a two-for-one with Penn State?"
Now here we are with same-dude Steve Pederson presiding over a basketball coach saying Pitt has "like 50" games it wants to play as much as the one his program has played 146 times against a team 130 miles away that's obviously the only one his fans truly care about given how many times Paterno was badgered with the same exact question for more than a decade.
So everyone can stop with the partisan bickering, OK? Neither school has the moral or logical high ground here. Both schools want their power programs to have their options open. Both schools want their weaker programs to have the rivalry draw on the schedules every year.
The arguments are consistently inconsistent across both athletic departments. This means the camps aren't Pitt vs. Penn State, they're "for annual games" or "against annual games" whichever shade of blue you wear.
As Adamski mentions and to Dixon's credit, he's talking to Pat Chambers about future meetings in the same way Penn State has already agreed to four straight football meetings from 2016 to 2019. We're past the point when you can accuse the schools of not trying. But it's clear neither program in the power position is interested in an annual affair.
It's not my purpose here to say whether that's right or wrong, just that the dialogue needs to rise above the rivalry if it's ever going to get anywhere productive. If you want Pitt vs. Penn State to happen every year, don't look at the other guy.
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