Sixty or so years ago, I was first sports editor and then editor of The Pitt News. During my tenure in one of those positions I took the drastic step of writing an outrageous column about the Pitt football team. The team was so bad, so consistently bad, I recall writing, that there was only one step for the team and the school to take.
The University of Pittsburgh, which would soon be my alma mater for life, had to do something to erase the stain that the football team was inflicting on the school. The solution I suggested — de-emphasize football and play on the level of its Oakland neighbor, then known as Carnegie Tech, now named Carnegie Mellon.
Pitt, of course, was too proud to take such a step. Pitt thought of itself as a first-class football school even though the team was incapable of playing with the legitimate first-class teams. The mindset kept the athletic director scheduling games with the 1950s caliber of Alabama and Clemson even though everyone knew Pitt had no chance against them.
The athletic director nevertheless kept scheduling those unbeatable teams, and the embarrassment continued.
The embarrassment is back, but embarrassment doesn’t properly describe what Pitt suffered at the hands of Penn State last Saturday night. Penn State humiliated Pitt in that 51-6 travesty — on national television.
I mention national television because colleges use nationally televised football and basketball games to recruit high school students. There are high school students in western and central Pennsylvania who watched that game, and Pitt won’t win any of those who are torn between the schools. Choosing a college based on a football game may not be the smartest thing to do, but they are high school students.
A debacle like that 51-6 loss won’t attract donors either. I’m not suggesting that all colleges should be like Alabama so money will come their way, but a disaster on the football field can turn students and donors away, thinking, “Why take a chance on a college having a good English department, or a worthwhile physics program, when it allows a football team to be humiliated by a neighbor?”
There is only one step to take, and six decades later I renew my plea to my alma mater — de-emphasize football and play a schedule a couple of levels below the major leagues.
I don’t know anything about Albany except its name has a lot of the same letters as Alabama. But I would bet Pitt players and Pitt fans enjoyed that game much more than they did the Penn State game.
When I was sports editor of this fine newspaper, the sports editor of the Penn State Daily Collegian and I initiated a game of two-hand touch football between the staffs of the two papers. I don’t know what has become of the Blood Bowl game, if anything, but I think what I saw on television Saturday night was a bloodbath.
The University of Pittsburgh doesn’t need that. Its football players and fans don’t need that. It is time for Pitt officials and trustees to consider the matter seriously and not wait another 60 years.
Murray Chass graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1960. He was a sports editor and editor of The Pitt News, and went on to write for the Associated Press and The New York Times. Chass received the Baseball Writers’ Association of American J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 2003. He currently writes on his website, www.murraychass.com.