On Sunday, the Associated Press placed Pitt in the AP Top 25 Poll. On Thursday, Pitt's Athletic Director, Scott Barnes, announced that the University of Pittsburgh is just too good to play football games at a Group of Five home stadium.
"We will not continue to play home-and-home with Group of Five schools," Barnes said. "We will play them at our place as part of our scheduling plan. We will not play home-and-home."
And then Barnes segued into renewing Pitts' rivalry with in-state foe, Penn State.
The irony is rich. When Penn State put a stop to the Panther/Lion rivalry in 2000, the groaning was loud indeed. In fact, Pitt is still groaning. At the time, Penn State claimed it needed to play two of its three non-conference games at home every year to support its athletic program. Meanwhile, the only game that sold-out Pitt's stadium was the one with Penn State.
Pitt needed Penn State more than Penn State needed Pitt.
So Pitt adjusted, and the Panthers played ball at G5 stadiums. Lots of them: UAB in 2002 (W), Toledo in 2003 (L), UConn in 2004 (L), Ohio in 2005 (L), Cincinnati in 2006 (W), USF in 2008 (W), Buffalo in 2009 (W), Uconn, USF and Cincinnati in 2010 (L,W,W), Cincinnati in 2012 (L), Navy in 2013 (L), FIU in 2014 (W) and Akron in 2015 (W).
The Pittsburgh Panthers were among the most honorable P5 programs in the country. Now, after years of building a resume on an equal partnership with the Group of Five, Pitt is doing to the G5 what Penn State did to Pitt.
And it sucks.
Of course, there are many Power Five programs who prefer not to schedule home-and-homes with Group of Five programs. Some, like Arkansas, will creatively book a neutral site and declare it an opponent's home game. But Pitt's arrogant declaration is a sign that the paradigm is shifting. The Power Five taking over the NCAA in the name of autonomy was only a start.
Barnes acknowledged that scheduling plays a huge role in today's Playoff format (because a team ranked for the first time since 2010 is poised to make a Playoff run, right?). And sure, playing any team on its home turf increases your odds of losing, even if it's to a lowly G5 program. So why risk it?
The Group of Five can take one of two paths:
- It can merely accept Pitt's decree and meet the Panthers on their home field just so Pitt can continue feeling good about itself. This will certainly encourage other P5 programs to adopt the same policy, marginalizing the G5 to a second-rate league of tune-ups.
- Or, The Group of Five can finally take a stand.
G5 Athletic Directors can (and should) blackball Pitt and any P5 program that refuses home-and-home schedules. That may push the Power Five to break away from the G5 all together, but isn't that happening anyway? The Power Five is already consolidating power and positioning itself to grab every dollar college athletics mints. Would it not be preferable to determine our own fate than allow a smug P5 athletic director to choose how and where we play?
Boycott Pitt. Cancel your game with the Panthers, Marshall. Make Barnes scramble to fill the void. Because Barnes thinks he's too good for us. Because Pitt believes we're not entitled to the opportunities we've graciously afforded him. Boycott the hell out of Pitt.
It worked for Penn State.