After last week's announcement that Pitt would play West Virginia for four years, I speculated that the Panthers were unable to get the Nittany Lions on the schedule and thus selected the Mountaineers. In short, here was what I wrote:
it sounds as if West Virginia was an alternative at least partially because Penn State happens to be busy for the early part of that decade. Barnes has pretty much said before that the Nittany Lions are a priority over West Virginia. If securing the Mountaineers was done because a series with Penn State wasn't feasible, Barnes clearly made a great move. But if there was any hope of playing the Nittany Lions before, it may have been reduced with this series.
That was based on a quote that Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes had in the official press release that cited 'limited scheduling opportunities' with Penn State. It appears that Barnes was being politically correct (by the way, he should be) and that, specifically, Penn State has not expressed any current interest in playing Pitt after that series.
Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes said Saturday night that his efforts to continue the Penn State series beyond 2019 have been met with resistance by Nittany Lions officials.
"They suggest they have given their commitment," he said, speaking to reporters prior to Pitt's game against Akron.
So, after negotiating a series the last time, why would Penn State not be interested in extending the series?
Keep in mind that the prior commitment was finalized by former athletic directors Steve Pederson and Tim Curley. That was a two-year deal that was later extended to four years when Pederson was still at Pitt and Penn State was under then acting AD Dave Joyner. Those deals got done under a previous administration.
Fast forward to now when Barnes is in control at Pitt. He has made it a priority to extend the series with the Nittany Lions since his arrival, so we know that he isn't the issue. In 2014, Sandy Barbour took over as athletics director at Penn State. Earlier this year, she was asked about extending the current deal with Pitt beyond the four years. Barbour didn't appear all that interested in an extension at that time, even going as far as saying this:
"I've heard a lot of different things about what playing Pitt means to the Penn State community and I'm not certain if I completely agree on it."
Barbour's answer then made it seem like she wasn't very interested in playing the Panthers beyond the current commitment. Then, there were her comments over the summer, which sounded as if that stance had only hardened as she appeared to imply that Penn State did not need a rival:
Penn State doesn't need a rival
This, according to Barbour, who was asked whether or not the Lions needed one in light of Maryland coach Randy Edsall saying Penn State is the Terps' rival Thursday before Rutgers' coach Kyle Flood was asked about it Friday.
"We're Penn State," Barbour said. "I love college football, I love talking about rivalries, but what happens on Saturday afternoon with 107,000 people in a stadium is what our fan base, alumni, and community get fired up about.
"I've seen over the course of one year that it really doesn't matter. It's about us, and our drive, to excellence."
I'd argue that rivals are really what college football are about. They give fans a reason to care even when the teams aren't so great (which, by the way, Pitt and Penn State really haven't been lately).
Barbour has stated she's been willing to talk to Barnes (who, by the way, she acknowledges in that link above that she knows). According to her, they were to talk later this year. Barnes, though, made it pretty clear that he wasn't the one holding it up.
To me (also Narduzzi and by all indications, Barnes as well, by the way), playing Penn State is the preferred option. But with that apparently out of Barnes' control, he did the next best thing and locked up a series with West Virginia. As I said earlier, that was the right decision.
We'll see where the Penn State thing goes. Barbour's comments don't make me too optimistic, but don't forget that getting the four-year deal largely out of the blue wasn't expected then, either.