The timeframe for potentially continuing the Pitt-Penn State football series looks to be way down the road, as in 2030, as Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour suggested last week during the Coaches Caravan.
After two games between the in-state teams in the next two years, Pitt does not fit into Penn State’s future scheduling plans, a detail Barbour and Nittany Lions coach James Franklin have made clear numerous times.
How clear? Let’s revisit some of comments made by Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, Franklin and Barbour within the last two years.
June 20, 2016
I sat down with Barbour in her office in the Bryce Jordan Center to discuss numerous topics. Among them was restarting the series against Pitt.
Barbour: “It is interesting to me as a relative newcomer, the viewpoint or the perspective around playing Pitt. You’ve got folks on both sides. You’ve got folks who think we ought to play them every year, you’ve got folks that love the fact that we’ve entered into a four-year series with them. I got some who say we should never play Pitt.”
With Pitt garnering so much interest from both fan bases, such a matchup would at least help fill Beaver Stadium and Heinz Field. At the time, many Penn State fans were buying Pitt season tickets just to guarantee a set for the game. Isn’t filling the stadiums at least one of the goals here?
Barbour: “I think what we’re looking to do is play at least one Power 5 opponent per year. Now obviously you’re going to be playing Power 5 opponents home-and-home, so your three-game nonconference schedule is going to be one Power 5 and whether it’s Pitt or West Virginia or Virginia Tech, those are kind of a regional Power 5, all of which have great interest. …
“I would say about every third series that you throw in a big intersectional, a marquee, big name, Penn State vs. whoever that’s going to grab national attention.”
Days after the interview published, Penn State announced a home-and-home series with Auburn, which starts in 2021 when the Tigers visit Beaver Stadium.
March 19, 2017
Lyke is introduced as Pitt’s new athletic director. Barbour and Lyke exchanged text messages shortly after the introduction.
May 10, 2017
During a visit to Pittsburgh for the Coaches Caravan it was only fitting that Barbour would be asked about the future of the series. After Pitt took the first game of the four-year agreement, Barbour was
asked if there was an agreement in place beyond the four-year deal.
Barbour: “We’re scheduled out through 2019 with Pitt every year. That’s our Power 5 slot. We are scheduled out in that Power 5 slot through 2025 so it’s certainly not going to be done before then. … Heather and I have not had that conversation. We’ve had the congratulations, welcome to the state of Pennsylvania and we both know we’ll get to that conversation fairly soon.”
May 11, 2017
One day after outlining the Power 5 scheduling slot, Barbour was asked at the Coaches Caravan stop in Altoona whether it would be feasible for Pitt and Penn State to play every year.
Barbour: “At the most I don’t see playing Pitt every year because we’ve got one Power 5 slot and we’ve got some thoughts around some other regional opponents as well as a major intersectional, you know, home and home every six years, once every eight years a home and home. Playing Pitt every year doesn’t fit in that.”
June 27, 2017
Three months into Lyke’s tenure as athletic director at Pitt she was asked whether she and Barbour exchanged messages about possibly continuing the series beyond 2019.
Lyke: “Sandy and I haven’t had formal discussions yet, but I know Sandy well. I have obviously profound respect for her. We would love to continue any type of ongoing football games with Penn State, if possible.”
Added Lyke: “I think there’s great value in the rivalry. I think it’s a little bit more on their scheduling philosophy and how we can fit into that scheduling philosophy, but we’re trying to make us as attractive as possible to fit into that scheduling philosophy because we feel that it’s incredibly important. We all know and we’ve all seen the impact that it can have from an attendance standpoint and the revitalization of that rivalry.”
Sept. 12, 2017
Franklin was asked about his philosophy of scheduling nonconference opponents and how that could relate to Penn State’s chances in the College Football Playoff. Penn State beat Pitt 33-14 on Sept. 9 to split the first two games of the series.
Franklin: “I don’t know if there is a model that you could say ‘this is the model,’ because things that they have said that they were factoring in in the past are not factoring in. I’ve even heard some other discussions this week of reasons and things that people have said, and I’ve never heard. So the narrative is changing.
“Until we have a couple years’ worth of data to study, it’s going to be hard to say. But the problem is we’re dealing with people, not computers anymore. So the people in the room change year to year, so I don’t know how consistent the data is going to be because it’s not going to be the same people making these decisions.
“You know, I still would make the argument [that] the best thing we can do is win our conference. I think if you win your conference, that’s the best case that you can make. And then after that, humans are going to make decisions.”
Dec. 28, 2017
Barbour spoke about nonconference scheduling ahead of the Fiesta Bowl and how she felt the College Football Playoff committee sent “mixed signals.” This response again shed light on Penn State’s scheduling philosophy.
Barbour: “I think there have been mixed signals. That does make it difficult giving us direction. I think given that we’re now in Year 4 and the Pac-12 has been left out twice, the Big 12 has been left out twice — not represented, obviously in a four-team playoff somebody is going to be left out — and now the Big Ten this year, there’s going to be some conversations and there should be. There always should be conversations and refinement. From a Penn State-centered perspective, one of the main things I’m looking for is guidance around what we need to do from a nonconference schedule to put ourselves in the best position to be in the conversation to be selected.”
She added that she talked with Pitt representatives when the Panthers played at Beaver Stadium in September but that “there’s been no progress at this point in time.”
Feb. 12, 2018
Penn State announced future games with Nevada, San Jose State and Bowling Green. With the nine-game Big Ten schedule, Nevada and San Jose State helped fill the 2020 schedule — which also includes a game against Virginia Tech.
Bowling Green was added to the 2024 slate. Penn State has full nonconference schedules for 2018, 2019 and 2020. Penn State has scheduled two nonconference opponents in 2021 (Ball State, Auburn) and 2024 (West Virginia, Bowling Green). Penn State has one nonconference game scheduled in 2022 (at Auburn), 2023 (West Virginia) and 2025 (Virginia Tech). A Penn State home game against Virginia (the Lions already played on the road) is still not on the future schedule.
Penn State has not announced any opponents for 2026 and beyond.
Feb. 27, 2018
Lyke, in an interview with 93.7 The Fan, was asked about the future of the series with Penn State and whether an agreement had been reached.
Lyke: “We have been in communication with Penn State and they’re evaluating their scheduling philosophy and their decision on whether or not they want to renew the series. We’re hopeful that it will be. … We’d love to play, we’d love to do a home-and-home, we’d love to do another four-game series. If it works, great. And if not, we’ll move in a different direction.”
April 25, 2018
Lyke said Pitt presented Penn State with a proposed four-year agreement to extend the series again starting in 2026. She added that Pitt wouldn’t wait forever for a response from Penn State.
Lyke: “We’re going to wait a tad more patiently, but not much. We can’t. We have people who want to play us and good opportunities to play what would be a very attractive game. But I think out of the respect for Penn State and the opportunity within the commonwealth, we want to play Penn State. If they don’t, we will obviously shift gears.”
May 8, 2018
Penn State kicked off its annual Coaches Caravan in New York City. Before the end of the first stop Barbour was asked about the in-state showdown and if and when it would continue beyond the current agreement.
Barbour: “We’ve had conversations, but I think at this point we both agreed that based on Big Ten and ACC scheduling principles — and you know it’s a complicated puzzle nowadays — that we’re probably not going to do anything at this point and look at some point after 2030 to maybe do something.”
May 9, 2018
With Penn State not planning on playing Pitt between 2020 and 2030, who will the Nittany Lions play, and how did they come to this idea?
Barbour: “I certainly have great respect for the rivalry, but at the same time I also know that it’s important to Penn State fans that we play some of the regional rivals, like a West Virginia or Virginia Tech, which we do have on the schedule, as well as we’ve scheduled a home-and-home with Auburn. And we’re looking at what we would consider to be some attractive alternatives, and we want to have the flexibility to do that.”
Would Penn State do a 2-for-1 with Pitt as opposed to a home-and-home or a four-year series?
Barbour: “It’s still taking up a spot in our schedule, so that principle doesn’t go away.”