There are a lot of terrible outcomes from the mass realignment of the earliest part of this decade, but this is by far the worst: the breakup of longtime rivalries.
Pitt and Penn State — or is it Penn State and Pitt? — are in the midst of a 4-year reunion, and it’s been great so far. The Panthers’ 42-39 win over the Nittany Lions in Pittsburgh last season was not only a thrilling game, but it kept Penn State out of the College Football Playoff. This is what college football rivalries are all about, no? Who wouldn’t want to make this an annual thing again?
Penn State, that’s who.
Speaking at a coaches’ caravan event last week, Penn State AD Sandy Barbour told Nittany Lions fans that the earliest their team would start playing their rivals to the west again after the current agreement expires in 2019 would be 2026.
“That’s our Power 5 slot,” Barbour said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We are scheduled out in that Power 5 slot through 2025, so it certainly isn’t going to be before then.”
The Nittany Lions are slated to play home-and-homes with Virginia Tech (2020, ’25), Auburn (2021-22) and West Virginia (2023-24) in the intervening years. Those are no slouches, to be fair to Barbour. Virginia Tech and West Virginia are regional rivals, and Auburn presents an interesting intersectional matchup. But it’s too bad Penn State can’t play Pitt and Virginia Tech/Auburn/West Virginia — an unrealistic option given the 9-game schedules deemed necessary by the Big Ten’s bloat to 14 teams. (Thanks again, realignment!)
For their part, Pitt has Notre Dame lined up in 2020, a home-and-home with Tennessee in 2021-22 and a 4-game series with West Virginia from 2022-25 (along with another game against the Irish in ’25). Not bad, either.
But the end result is a rivalry between the two major programs in Pennsylvania that was played on a near annual basis throughout the 20th century will be played only four times during the first quarter of the 21st century.