Penn State Football: Bill O'Brien Ignites the Penn State, Pittsburgh Series Talk

Kevin McGuireAnalyst IIMay 6, 2012

Bill O'Brien is onboard for the Penn State-Pittsburgh series. Photo: Kevin McGuire,
Bill O'Brien is onboard for the Penn State-Pittsburgh series. Photo: Kevin McGuire,

Penn State and Pittsburgh used to mean something in football, and if it were up to new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, it would mean something again. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, O'Brien stated his desire to see the two in-state universities get together on a more frequent basis on the football field.

I would love to see that game played on an annual basis, O’Brien told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Friday. I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Pitt coach) Paul Chryst and their program, and that’s a great rivalry.

Penn State and Pittsburgh used to play on an annual basis but have not met since 2000, with Pittsburgh winning the last meeting by a score of 12-0. The in-state rivalry was effectively killed off when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. Penn State's stance on playing an extra home game every year helped kill off one of the best rivalries in the college football world as a result.

The money brought in through football is vital to Penn State—the football income generally funds much of what the university does in academics and athletics. An alternating series with another school would cut into the finances for Penn State, and that was always a point of contention for Penn State and Pittsburgh.

Joe Paterno was insistent that Penn State get an extra home game out of any series agreed to with Pittsburgh, while the Panthers stood firm on an even home-for-home arrangement.

When the two schools finally agreed to a brief two-game series starting in 2016, there was some hope that it would open the door to a more long-term scheduling agreement. But that was more of a convenience for both schools to fill a brief scheduling vacancy.

With both schools now entering a new era in football with new head coaches, and with Pittsburgh moving to the ACC in 2013, perhaps now is the time to open the discussions once more.

“I think it should be an annual rivalry,” said O’Brien. “I think it’s about both schools wanting to do it and making it happen.”

Of course, that remains the catch. Even though Paterno and his stubborn stance on the home games is in the past, the financial details have not changed. Penn State is still in a situation where losing one home game every other year would remain a concern for the university.

Penn State has organized a number of home-and-home deals recently with Alabama, Syracuse and Virginia. But Penn State still flexes its muscles with programs like Temple, where Penn State makes a trip to Philadelphia every couple of years but hosts a couple of games in between.

For Penn State, giving up a home game voluntarily needs to make some sort of financial sense.

A high-profile series against Alabama is in a class of its own, while trips to Syracuse and Virginia bring a certain recruiting angle into the equation. When it comes to Temple and Pittsburgh, there is no real need to work a recruiting angle, so it all comes down to the dollars and cents.

This is why those who do want Penn State and Pittsburgh to reignite their annual rivalry should hope that one of two things happens. The first would be for the governor to step in and force some sort of rivalry the way West Virginia and Marshall were forced to play. The second would be to see some corporate sponsor organize the details to ensure both schools get what they would need in terms of annual payout.

If Penn State were guaranteed to make as much money as it would hosting a game despite playing a game in Pittsburgh, then perhaps the thinking behind closed doors would change in State College.

But corporate sponsorship does not always guarantee a series will live on.

For instance, look at the Lone Star Showdown—the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M that has been sponsored by State Farm. The two largest in-state athletic programs in the state of Texas had a great rivalry before State Farm came along to cash in on the historic rivalry across multiple sports. With Texas A&M moving to the SEC this year, it appears that even the corporate sponsorship of the series will not be enough to keep the football series going on in Novembers to come.

Penn State and Pittsburgh playing on an annual basis again may be a long time away from happening, but O'Brien would like to see it happen some day.

"For the fans of Pennsylvania to be able to see that game every year, I think that’s pretty neat.” 


Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ circle.