Last week, Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes made a bit of news when talking about the football program's future scheduling. Specifically, the Panthers will cease playing G5 programs on the road.
"We will not continue to play home-and-home with Group of Five schools," Barnes said. "We will play them at our place as part of our scheduling plan. We will not play home-and-home."
This, of course, makes perfect sense. For years, Pitt has played non-P5 programs on the road - a move that didn't make much sense in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, it could be argued there were benefits. For example, Pitt traveled to Florida International last season. Playing in Florida has some benefits in terms of recruiting so that a presence can be maintained there. Pitt has recruited that state heavily in the past and playing there at least brought that benefit to the table. Still, it's probably not worth the trouble.
SB Nation's Underdog Dynasty wrote about this after the announcement was made by Barnes, even calling for a boycott of Pitt. While some of what is mentioned there in regards to the Pitt-Penn State relationship certainly has merit, the main point being overlooked is that this is hardly a unique situation. Many P5 programs don't play G5 teams on the road - certainly not nearly as many as Pitt has. This isn't merely Pitt taking its ball and going home - it's Pitt getting more in line with what many programs already are doing.
The frustration from the schools not in the P5 is understood. That's particularly true to a school like Cincinnati, which won many games in the Big East while Pitt was a member. But the simple fact is that Barnes is doing what is best for his school. There's zero real benefit to playing non P5 programs on the road. Instead of scheduling home and home series with schools like Florida International, it just makes more sense to try to find a P5 opponent. Not only will that generate more buzz on the schedule, but when the P5 school comes to Heinz Field as part of a return trip, that's going to provide a far greater boost to attendance.
This is just one example, but look at last year. Iowa coming to Pittsburgh drew an (announced) crowd of about 49,000 people. Meanwhile, the Panthers sold nearly 10,000 less tickets for Akron. Pitt isn't purposefully doing anything malicious to the G5 programs (many of which, by the way, are competitive as we know all too well). But part of the job of the athletics director is to do as much as he/she can to draw crowds. There's simply a much better chance of doing that with a home-home with a bigger program.
Also, factor in that losses to programs outside the P5 are often quite damaging. Pitt's reputation took a big hit when they lost to both Youngstown State and Akron under Paul Chryst. Losing to a P5 program just doesn't have the same effect and looks far better. Forget about there being nothing much to gain by playing a G5 program on the road. This is actually a reason not to schedule such a game.
I sympathize with the G5 schools who continue to be on the outside looking in here. But to me, this is more about misplaced anger than anything else since the system is flawed. Pitt shouldn't really be blamed for merely following suit of what many P5 programs already do. If those schools would boycott playing the Panthers, they really should boycott playing everyone else that doesn't do road trips to MAC schools and the like.
At the end of the day, Barnes has a responsibility to put Pitt in the best position to succeed that he can. Fortunately for the Panthers, he's done that.