4.7 miles. That's the distance between the iconic Cathedral of Learning located on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh and Heinz Field, the home of the school's nine time national champion football program. On a map it's not so far, but to some people it is a world apart. Fans of the school, critics of the school, heck even innocent bystanders lending their opinion think by building a stadium within the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh will resurrect the football team to the glory years of the 70's and 80's. Why is this a topic after the football team won on national television against a good Virginia Tech program? Because local columnist, Rob Rossi, came up with the headline, "New Pitt Stadium is lone solution" but never really elaborated on why or how to make that notion possible. I will not fault Rossi for that part of the story, very few people have a plan in place to make this dream a reality. I will lend my opinion on why it is a myth that building a new stadium will solve all of Pitt's problems.
700 million dollars. That is the estimated cost of a project thought up by two Pitt alums that run the website, Panther-Hollow. The plan is a "15 year plan" to acquire the land, get the funds, and build the stadium and all that goes with it. You will not find a better and more well thought out idea on the subject than this website. Still, 700 million dollars? Where is that coming from? Heck, by the end of the 15 year plan, that can turn into a billion dollar project. Not every school has a Boone Pickens or a Phil Knight who can and will donate countless dollars to their university. How about the donation made by the Petersen family to help build the Petersen Events Center? It was just ten million of the 119 million dollars it took to build. I say "just ten million" like it was not a big deal, but it helped build a basketball arena few can rival. But what would a ten million dollar do for a 700 million dollar project? I just do not see where the other 690 million coming from on this one.
Again, the Panther-Hollow concept is well thought out, but acquiring land in Oakland? What land? Oakland is tight as it is now with hospitals, businesses, and 20 some thousand undergrads spread across a few universities. Oakland is listed as the third largest "downtown" in Pennsylvania behind just Central City Philadelphia and down the road in Downtown Pittsburgh. Think about that for a second, the few blocks on Fifth and Forbes has more happening there on a daily basis than almost everywhere else in the state. It's a crowded, thriving, and popular area. I just don't see how a 45,000 seat stadium fits into the works. Have you seen the traffic and parking issues on an everyday Monday? How about when 12,000 fans cram in for a big basketball game? It's just not realistic that anyone can expect 45,000 fans to park and attend a football game and get in and out of town in a reasonable amount of time.
Part of the allure of Heinz Field was to appeal to non-students, and to bring the tailgating aspect into the works. Rossi's article stated that Pitt students show up now, and in fairness they do show up on most games and they show up early, but leave even earlier. That's another topic in itself, but clearly they can get themselves to the games. It's the alumni base and the everyday local crowd where Pitt is struggling in attendance, and Heinz Field is way more accessible than an Oakland stadium would be. Could you imagine having the stadium on-campus with limited parking and significantly more traffic drive people away further? In a way, I could see that happening. Heinz Field has parking, accessibility, but the one thing it lacks is atmosphere.
Ah yes, atmosphere, Sure I can picture Oakland on an early October Saturday. People tailgating on the Cathedral Lawn, students partying in South Oakland, Fifth and Forbes buzzing with action, and the team running onto the field wearing the script! OK, let's not get too carried away. I love the tradition and the spirit of gameday in college football. Heinz Field can offer better logistical reasons to play there, but what makes college football, college football is the campus atmosphere, and Oakland has that aspect easily.
The football program's biggest issue with attendance isn't where the games are being played, but rather how they are being played. Pitt fans do not trust the football team right now, and with the "same old Pitt" mentality, it is easy to see why. Pitt has recruited well enough to be better than what they have been through the years. Dave Wannstedt's teams could have always done better, and in fairness, Paul Chryst is trying to pick up the pieces from his departure still. It is simple really, if you win - people will come. The University allowed things to get this way, and it started long before the team moved out of Oakland.
There have been plenty of botched coaching hires, de-emphasis of football altogether in the early 90's, and even to this day the spending on the coaching staff holds this program back more than anything. Heinz Field doesn't hold this program back, in fact recruits love the Steelers relationship Pitt has. The facilities on the Southside are first rate all the way, Pitt's campus is great and it is better than ever. This city offers kids so many opportunities, and it is a unique and special town to attend college. Pitt's overall makeup for an athlete on the football team is pretty good if you think about it.
Back to the original topic at hand, before I ramble too much, Rossi's headline said this is the "lone solution" for Pitt football. As if beating a nationally respected program on national telvevision was a bad thing or something. Pitt has been in way more dire situations than the 2014 football season - trust me. Pitt's on-field issues will solve everything in the bleachers, and I do not think there is any way you can sum it up any better. Pitt fans need to trust their team again, and the team needs to give them a reason to do that. Sticking them in Oakland and handing the University a 700 million dollar bill is not the lone solution, in fact, it isn't really a solution at all.