COLUMN: Why Pitt-Penn State Isn’t a Rivalry

Story posted September 7, 2016 in CommRadio, Sports by Patrick Johnsonbaugh

The Iron Bowl, the Red River Rivalry, and Ohio State vs. Michigan: these are some of the biggest and most heated rivalries in all of college football.

They have it all; a long and storied history, regional bragging rights on the line, and a new instalment every year. All of those factors combine to make these games some of the most important games every season.

The Penn State vs. Pittsburgh games used to fall under this category, but this label no longer applies.

This Saturday’s game has been hyped up as an important rivalry game for both sides by both the student bodies and the local media, but many others are saying that the game is in fact not like it used to be.

“Pitt-Penn State isn’t the same rivalry that it once was, and it will never be that again,” said Paul Zeise, a member of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Zeise has a great point. These two teams have not faced off against each other since 2000, when Pitt defeated the Nittany Lions 12-0 in Pittsburgh. In the time since, the rivalry has died down. Without the opportunity to play each other on a yearly basis, a rivalry cannot continue to exist.

When the teams did play, yearly from 1900 to 1992 with a four-year break from 1931 to 1935, they were often both in national title contention. These games did not only impact the nation title picture, but they also changed the recruiting landscape in Western Pennsylvania. This gave the game an added layer of complexity that made it all the more important.

However, those times are long gone. The last time Penn State played in a major BCS bowl game was in 2009, and you have to go all the way back to 2005 for Pitt. These are not two teams that are expected to shape the national title discussion, and to many this is just another game, not a rivalry.

“To me, a rivalry isn't something that you have to have a discussion about. The fans, the media, the players and the coaches all view it that way,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said in his weekly press conference.

Another supposed reason that his game is so important are the possible recruiting implications. Back in the hay days of the rivalry, the winner of this game had a stranglehold on Western Pennsylvania, which held a bounty of talented players.

This again is not the case. In a time where teams can easily pull talent from all across the country, having control over a small slice of real estate does not mean nearly as much as it used to. This game will give the winners some bragging rights over the other school, but it is unlikely that this would truly help much with recruiting on a large scale.

Since the teams have not played each other in 16 years, it is hard for this game to have any meaning. Neither the players nor the students of the schools have ever seen a memorable game between the two. This game will change that and that is a good thing, but that does not mean that they are rivals.

Penn State and Pitt will meet up each year until 2019, and in that time, the rivalry may heat up again. But the problem then becomes: will the teams play more beyond 2019?

“I think our schedules are set, theirs and ours, through 2025 or 2026,” James Franklin said.

If the two teams cannot find space in their schedules to play each other until 2026, can it really be called a rivalry? They will have played each other just four times in 26 years, so the numbers don’t add up.

Overall, Penn State vs. Pitt was one of the biggest and best games in college football during the twentieth century, but the rivalry has fallen apart since then. Just because the teams are meeting up again does not mean that they are rivals again.


Patrick Johnsonbaugh is a freshman majoring in Journalism. To contact him, email him at