So many of you have probably heard the news that I was selected for the first-ever Panther Fans Experience Committee. I and the others knew about it for a while, but were asked to wait until the official announcement on Wednesday to discuss it.
First, it's a tremendous honor and thanks so much to those of you who have reached out to me. And I mean that. More than 800 people penned entries of why they should be chosen and I was one of 22 that were ultimately selected. To say it's pretty humbling is an understatement. I couldn't respect this thing any more, to be honest. Just really, really, honored and grateful for the opportunity.
So why did I opt to throw my hat in the ring? The easy answer is, because I love Pitt.
I fell in love with the school when I came here to visit about 20 years ago before enrolling. I love Pitt sports, but it goes deeper for me than that, to be honest.
I loved my time as a student there and Pitt is a world class university. It's situated in a great location close to the city, which provides great opportunities for students. Yet, if you drive 20 minutes out of town, you can find yourself in rural areas. It's a wonderful educational institution that offers plenty of opportunity for those that want it. It's in a culturally-diverse area consisting of more ethnic neighborhoods than you shake a stick at. It's in a city where there are college sports, professional sports, arts, theater - everything you could possibly want. There are jobs. There is world-class healthcare. There are chances for growth and the living is more than affordable. As I've come to learn over the past 20 years I've called this place home, it's a place where you can settle down. There is no reason on earth why Pitt cannot be considered among the elite in terms of U.S. colleges.
And there's no reason they cannot be elite when it comes to sports, either.
How do I know? Because they were once elite. The football program, specifically, wasn't only in the rankings but atop them in the 1970s and 1980s. The basketball team, as recently as a few years ago, was in the regular season, too. Championships have been won here. All-Americans crowned. Future Hall of Famers seen. If you want to know if Pitt can be elite again, you needn't look any further than the past.
So, okay - I love Pitt sports. It's the reason I pour obscene amounts of hours into a blog I've maintained since last decade. Over time, my interest in professional sports has waned considerably while my interest in Pitt sports has gone through the roof. I can't explain why Pitt basketball making a Final Four is utterly more important to me than any local pro team winning a championship. I can't explain why Pitt winning an ACC football title would be a bigger thrill than seeing the Pirates erase 20 years of futility and make the playoffs (though, that was close). I can't explain why seeing Pitt softball, a sport I've never paid attention to, reaching the NCAA Tournament was must-see TV.
It all just is.
Our job on this committee is to make the fan experience better. Here's the thing, though - I don't want to only make it better ... it needs to be great. Fans should look forward to going to games, not dread fighting traffic (as, by the way, I have). Fans should show up at a Heinz Field that looks like a legit college stadium inside and out, not (as Spilly so eloquently put it before), a place where Pitt logos are hastily strewn about. Everything from top to bottom should make being a Pitt fan a rewarding experience. Above all, perhaps, fans need a reason to come to games.
Over the years in running this site, I've heard all kinds of things from Pitt fans. They vary, of course. For every person that likes 'block' Pitt, two want the script. For every younger person that wants alcohol sales at games, a parent enjoys being able to take his/her kid to the game without having to worry about an atmosphere that rivals a Steelers tailgate. This isn't as simple as pitching one of those ideas because all fans need to be considered. Similarly, the athletics department can't please everyone and has take all kinds of vantage points into consideration before making decisions.
With all of that said, there are lots of opinions here and none of them are necessarily wrong. And frankly, I'd love to hear some of yours. Keep in mind there are 22 of us on the committee. I'm not going to have an hour of Scott Barnes' time to chew the fat about why Bray Wyatt isn't pushed more, about if he reads our nonsensical Cardiac Spill articles, or read off a wantlist of Pitt-related items. But, along with other committee members, I will have the opportunity to provide input to the athletics department, so I'd love to hear what you have to say.
If you could tell the athletics department one thing in regards to attending games, merchandise, etc. (or heck, a few things), what would it be? Oh yeah, and no on-campus stadium. Ain't happening.
Hail to Pitt.