The University of Pittsburgh has reached a critical point with its football program.
The population of the University’s die-hard football fans, the majority of which was introduced to Pitt football during its glory days of the ‘70s, is naturally declining. Whether the reason is loss of patience, death or relocation, Pitt can no longer rely solely on an older generation for support.
Given Pitt’s jump into the ACC, now is the worst possible time for this.
Some older fans commonly bash current Pitt students for not showing up to games. They also slam the flocks that sprint for exit signs after “Sweet Caroline.” Both are problems because of the clear connection between student interest and unprecedented success on the gridiron. A wise man once said: Empty yellow seats are instant turnoffs for high school recruits.
Among the complaints, however, there is a trend: Critics aren’t generally the ones who have dealt with Pitt’s defective shuttle system that transports students to and from home games.
As a transfer student, I often heard horror stories from students about catching a shuttle back to Oakland after a game. Listening with a grain of salt, I always thought the stories derived from college men and women being, well, dramatic young people. Turns out, those stories were understated.
After the Labor Day game against Florida State, a line eight students wide spanned from the first shuttle all the way to the corner of Reedsdale Street, which runs parallel to Heinz Field’s north end zone, and from there to North Shore Drive, directly across from the T Plus station. Two lines, formed inside the station, wrapped around the building. It was a similar story in town, where astoundingly long lines formed at bus stops along Fifth Avenue.
I then realized I don’t blame students for staying on campus.
Additionally, Heinz Field, home to “the hottest home schedule in the country,” was not even at full capacity.
Obviously, times have changed. I believe students who have been enrolled at Pitt over the past 13 years have fallen out of touch with its football program. Since the move from Pitt Stadium to Heinz Field, going to football games has become a more than 12-hour activity for Pitt students, something desired by few of them. If Heinz Field is Pitt’s permanent fix as a home stadium, something must be done to ease the hassle of student transportation before more students cut ties with the 124-year tradition for good.
The Department of Athletics must vow to make the trip to the North Shore as accessible as a walk from Towers to the Petersen Events Center.
There are two potential sources of solution: Pitt, or, more indirectly, Pittsburgh mayoral hopeful Bill Peduto.
Since joining the ACC, Pitt is now making millions more annually because of its new TV contract. My challenge to the University: spend the difference on getting students to games.
There are several possibilities that Pitt could take on to make things better. My favorite utilizes our city’s waterways. I urge the department to send students to the North Shore by way of ferry.
The route could begin at privately owned land off Bates Street near the Hot Metal Bridge. Yes, it would cost money to operate ferries, barter with landowners to build a dock and use these companies’ land six times a year as an area for students to wait, but perhaps a deal could be struck with Pittsburgh’s Gateway Clipper Fleet and other local ferries to transport students from this location. The concept would lessen shuttle and Port Authority bus and rail traffic, ultimately putting more students in seats and producing a better product on the field.
Aside from bringing in more buses or building an on-campus stadium in the half-acre of free space that Oakland has to offer, this is the most logical option.
If demands are not met here, Pitt fans will have to wait a very long time until an outside source accidentally conquers the problem, that source being Councilman Bill Peduto.
Peduto is a bit of a mass transit guru. He has been linked to several transportation studies-turned-blueprints, which could put more students and city residents in seats on Saturdays.
In a previous interview with The Pitt News’ staff writer Danielle Fox, he spoke about an expansion of Pittsburgh’s light rail into and beyond Oakland. Such a project would benefit Pitt students, who would be taken directly to Heinz Field, traffic-free.
Although Peduto swears the project wouldn’t break the bank, it might never happen. If it does, it could be completed in time for our children to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Recessions and depressions cannot be judged until after the fact, and Pitt football cannot afford to fall into the slightest of the two. If Pitt allows this to become the case, the University could be boasting its nine national titles for a very long time.