The Pittsburgh-Penn State rivalry is one athletic director Steve Pederson always wanted to renew. So imagine his reaction when he heard from Penn State athletic director Tim Curley last week, asking about getting the game back on the schedule.
Pederson was naturally thrilled. Penn State had an opening for games in 2016 and 2017. The two had always said if there was a chance to schedule the games, they would. So the details were worked out quickly and the schools announced Tuesday they would play a home-and-home series. Pittsburgh gets to host the first game on Sept. 10, 2016, fitting in well on a schedule that already features a road game against Notre Dame. Penn State hosts the following year on Sept. 16, 2017.
The series ended in 2000 among scheduling and financial concerns. There are also those Pitt fans who believe Joe Paterno had a hand in making the decision as well because of a grudge he holds against the school. When asked why Penn State reached out now, Pederson said it was a question for the Nittany Lions to answer. But he did say the hiatus had much to do with scheduling.
"We’re glad they called," Pederson said. "We’ve always had a great relationship with them. Here you have two great institutions in this state important to the state of Pennsylvania and both Pitt and Penn State fans, from my interaction, were hopeful this game could be played again. However everything came about, it’s good that it did."
It is a mere coincidence that first-year coach Todd Graham said last month he wanted to see the Penn State-Pitt rivalry renewed, telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "I can remember watching that game growing up and the tremendous tradition that that game was, and we would actually love to play that game in the future. It would be something that we'd be very much in favor of."
A month later, the phone rang in Pederson's office.
As for the future of the rivalry, Pederson said, "Tim and I talked about the importance of getting this deal done and then what we agreed is to continue to have conversations going forward and take a look into the future. They do have some scheduling commitments for a number of years. That might prevent more immediate kinds of discussions, but were having an ongoing dialogue.
"We’ve always been in favor of playing the game every year if we could. We feel it’s an important rivalry and you can see from the response to this that it’s a game people like. It doesn’t matter where you grew up, you grew up watching Pitt-Penn State as one of those great national games."
This was one of the most heated rivalries in college football in the 1970s and 1980s. Penn State holds a 50-42-4 advantage in the all-time series that began in 1893. The schools played every season from 1900-31 and 1935-92. Following a four-year break, the series resumed for four games from 1997-2000 before its current hiatus.
In the last meeting, Pittsburgh shut out the Nittany Lions 12-0 at Three Rivers Stadium. When asked whether he thought he would see the two teams play again following that game, Pederson said, "I always hoped we would and I thought we probably would."