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Penn State
Paterno: Pitt could become rival again if it joined Big Ten

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It's rivalry week across the country this weekend. Michigan-Ohio State. USC-UCLA. Auburn-Alabama.

And Penn State fans get. ... Michigan State.

The final weekend of the regular season used to feature another great college rivalry. Penn State and Pitt played on the final weekend of the regular season 75 times from 1904-92.

When Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993, the series was interrupted and has been played only four times since and is not scheduled to resume within the next six years at least.

Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said he didn't know if Pitt would ever return to the schedule, but he said the best way for the series to resume would be for the Big Ten to add a 12th team.

Yesterday, Paterno lobbied for the Panthers to be the 12th team that the conference coaches so desperately covet.

"Our problem is we have to play eight games in the Big Ten," Paterno said. "If the Big Ten added a 12th team, and we only had to play six or seven [conference] games, that would be a great opportunity for us to get back to playing Pitt. In fact, I'd love to see the Big Ten try and get Pitt to be that 12th team.

"We have Alabama home and home, we have Nebraska home and home. We have to have that sixth home game for revenue because of the 29 sports we [fund] at Penn State. And we have alumni all over the world who want us to play in California, the Southeast, Southwest, New England. It's kind of tough for me to predict that we could play Pitt home and home within the next seven or eight years."

The Big Ten Conference pursued Notre Dame to be the 12th team a few years back, but Notre Dame turned the conference down. Coaches prefer a 12th team be added so two divisions could be formed. That would allow for a conference playoff and possibly more non-conference games. Either way, if a 12th team is added, the likelihood of Pitt coming back on the schedule increases.

Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley said Penn State would be willing to bring Pitt back onto the schedule, but only for a two-game series.

Pitt officials have balked at that, saying the rivalry should be played every season.

Curley said conference expansion would be discussed at the earliest in May, at the yearly meeting. He said it is not on the agenda as of now.

"I would like to add a 12th team," Paterno said. "Most of our coaches do, so we could have two divisions. I would hope it would go to Pitt or Syracuse, or somebody like that who would have some interest in it. But that's not my call, and it's not going to be my call. That's going to be up to presidents and athletic directors to make that call."

University of Pittsburgh Athletic Director Steve Pederson issued a statement yesterday, saying that "the University of Pittsburgh is always interested in renewing our rivalry with Penn State. However, we are certainly very happy and proud members of the Big East Conference. We are also very proud of the tremendous success the Big East has enjoyed in recent years."

While Western Pennsylvania football fans dream of a rivalry renewed, they'll have to make do this week with what Paterno considers a rivalry in the making. Michigan State and Penn State play every year, and the Spartans have been Penn State's opponent on the final weekend of the regular season since '93.

Penn State holds a 7-2 edge in games played since '93. The two teams played 10 times from 1914-66, and Michigan State won seven of those games.

"It's going to take a while to achieve a rivalry," Paterno said. "The thing with Pitt was something I grew up with when I came here. It was 40 years I coached against Pitt at the end of the year. We're just starting to get into some of our rivalries with the teams in the Big Ten. Right now, it would not be for the fans in the state, maybe not quite what it would have been [with Pitt], but I think it is developing into that.

"Michigan State has a great football tradition. Eventually, it will be that same kind of rivalry. But right now it's not as old and the geography is not quite the same. ... We have to get on with what we're doing."

In order to add some teeth to the rivalry, Penn State and Michigan State created a trophy that goes to the winner of the game. But somehow the Land Grant Trophy doesn't have the same appeal as the Little Brown Jug, Old Oaken Bucket or Paul Bunyan's Axe.

"The only thing we know about the trophy is that it leaves a big empty space in our trophy case when we don't win," Penn State senior offensive lineman Matt Schmitt said. "Michigan State gives us a tough game every time we play them."

But some Penn State players still would like to have Pitt back on the schedule.

Senior lineman Tyler Lenda grew up on the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. His father, Ed, played for Penn State in the 1960s.

"We definitely should play Pitt," Lenda said. "The last time we played them, it was not a good memory. They're having a real good year this year. It's a great rivalry. That would be as big a rivalry as we would have."

NOTE -- The referee doll that was hanging on Paterno's door apparently has some company. A Paterno doll is now hanging next to the referee. "You've got to laugh once in a while," Paterno said. "The whole thing is so ludicrous, it got so ridiculous, and I cannot believe anybody would take that seriously." He hinted that his wife, Sue, might have been the decorator.


Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.

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