Column: ‘Sweet Caroline’ change not enough


"Sweet Caroline" will no longer be played in between the third and fourth quarters at Heinz Field. (Photo by Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer)

By Ryan Zimba / Sports Editor

The Pitt football program’s decision to alter the “Sweet Caroline” tradition was a step in the right direction for the team’s Heinz Field experience, but it could’ve — and should’ve — gone further.

The unoriginal tradition of singing Neil Diamond’s 1969 tune has been a trademark of Pitt’s home games and its student section in recent years, but it’s also been a major topic of debate. As many have pointed out, the Panthers are just one of many teams to play the song.

The most well-known team that plays the song is the Boston Red Sox, who started their own tradition of singing it in middle of the eighth inning in 2002. Other teams include the New York Mets and the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

The debate grew over time, and no doubt played a part in Friday’s announcement that the football program will move the song to various different points throughout the game instead of its standard timeslot between the third and fourth quarters.

But while many — including myself — are overjoyed with this announcement, it’s not the lack of originality that matters. Instead, it’s what happens after the song ends.

The students walk down their aisles, and their section — meant to be the rowdiest part of the stadium — becomes an empty, quiet place. Rivalry games against Penn State, West Virginia and Notre Dame are the lone exceptions, with students opting to stay solely due to the opponent’s notoriety.

Over time, leaving after “Sweet Caroline” has become as much of a tradition for the students as singing it. Therefore, what’s meant to generate excitement and enthusiasm does the exact opposite at the point the team needs it the most.

It remains to be seen whether the students will stay after the third quarter now, but it should be better. Maybe they’ll just leave even earlier, if that’s when the song is played.

More needs to be done to fix the problem and get students to stay the entire game. To accomplish this, the Panther Pitt could do one of two things — either get rid of the tradition entirely or move it to the end of the game.

Both are acceptable and realistic options that would eliminate the problems the tradition poses. The former of the two would please those who think the tradition is an all-around negative, but in the process it could alienate the students who hold it so close.

So, while many would rather see it replaced with something more motivational, it’s not the right choice. The song should be moved to the end of the game — played after every Pitt win.

Assuming everyone stays, it would be a great way to end a day at Heinz Field. The stadium would be loud until the end of the game, and that energy would be carried over while the crowd empties out.

Other programs, like Notre Dame, have similar traditions. In the case of the Fighting Irish, the players congregate in front of the student section after every game — win or lose — and everyone takes part in the singing of their alma mater.

If Pitt were to do something similar with “Sweet Caroline,” it could make for a more memorable tradition. In the process, it would get everyone to stay for the entire game, because if there’s one thing the current tradition has done, it’s gotten students to stay for the song, just not after it.

Getting students to stay for the fourth quarter is something the Panther Pitt has been trying to do for years, and this would be an easy way to do that. Whether it’s been the “#4Quarters” movement or giving students a snack and a drink for staying the whole game, nothing has worked so far.

With the current change, it’s unclear what the result will be. What if it’s played during the third quarter? Will students leave then?

It’ll be interesting to see, but either way it’s encouraging that the program is at least doing something in the hopes of making a change. Because if there’s one aspect of Pitt football that the fanbase agrees on, it’s that the experience at Heinz Field needs to improve.

Winning, of course, would be the simplest way to raise attendance, but for years the athletic department has been hesitant to do much of anything else to help it. So for that, they deserve to be applauded. Hopefully, it’s a sign of what’s to come under new Athletic Director Heather Lyke.

If it is, the program’s already bright future could look even better, as head coach Pat Narduzzi continues to build his program for the long run.

“Another eight-win season, I can’t handle it,” Narduzzi said this week at the program’s annual luncheon. “And I certainly can’t handle a six-win season.”

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