Column | To get full Pitt Athletics experience, fans must invest in non-revenue sports

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Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Staff writer Griffin Floyd argued that if students want to see Panther teams succeed at the highest level, they must turn to non-revenue sports such as baseball and women’s volleyball.

By Griffin Floyd, Staff Writer

Non-revenue college sports rest in an interesting niche, carved out by the whims of American sports fans and their interests. Football and basketball take precedence in the college landscape, just as they do in the American pro leagues. As such, other sports like soccer, volleyball and softball can’t rely on funding from their own box offices to stay afloat — thus earning the moniker “non-revenue.”

But just because these sports don’t rake in the big dollars doesn’t mean they aren’t worth watching. Non-revenue sports are an untapped gold mine for viewing pleasure, especially as they leave Pitt’s flagship sports in the dust from a competitive standpoint. Athletic Director Heather Lyke doesn’t just focus on the sports that pull in revenue, and neither should students.

“We created an environment where it’s a big deal when you win a championship,” Lyke said in a May media availability. “We’re going to celebrate [a championship], we’re going to display it … We wanted to create an environment … and create this culture that every team mattered.”

Multiple sports that lie in this category succeeded at the highest levels this past academic year:

  • Men’s soccer had the best season in program history in 2020-21, reaching the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in their fifth season under the supervision of coaching wunderkind Jay Vidovich.
  • The Panthers baseball team just missed out on a postseason berth, one of the first four teams left out by the selection committee, as they continue to rebuild under head coach Mike Bell.

Pitt’s non-revenue sports are firmly entering the limelight of college athletics after decades spent as afterthoughts.

Football and basketball, on the other hand, languish behind, flirting with the idea of becoming a powerhouse without ever bringing it to fruition. The Panthers perennially hover just outside the Top 25 on the gridiron, while the basketball team is staring down the barrel of another reboot after head coach Jeff Capel’s first attempt petered out.

The Pitt fanbase’s best shot at a national title isn’t at Heinz Field or the Petersen Events Center — it’s at the Petersen Sports Complex, home of the baseball, softball and soccer programs. 

Although the venues at this complex aren’t anywhere near the size of Heinz Field and the Petersen Events Center, the facilities are certainly nothing to scoff at. Each of the teams that play there — baseball, softball and both men’s and women’s soccer — have their own turf field with stadium seating, all equipped with press boxes and a place to buy food. While these games may not sell out, they are certainly some of the most exciting games to attend on campus simply because these teams can compete with the nation’s best.

With 347 colleges and universities competing in Division 1 athletics across various sports and levels of competition, very few fanbases are lucky enough to see their team win a championship unless they root for a dynastic program like Alabama football or Duke basketball.

Diversifying one’s assets by following more than just the revenue earning sports increases the chance of reaching the championship Cloud Nine, being every fan’s goal. As Pitt’s oft-overlooked sports knock on the door of becoming dynasties of their own, that’s more true than ever before.

More than that, though, non-revenue sports provide an inexpensive pathway to new hobbies, friends and interests. Soccer, the most popular sport in the world by a landslide, is largely shunned in the United States by an audience who prefers football to fútbol. That isn’t an indictment of the sport’s merit, but merely the preferences of American viewers set in stone before the global age of digital television.

Streaming services make it possible to watch these less popular sporting events — people aren’t confined to watching what’s in their cable package, making watching this category of sports easier than ever before.

To make the most of your Pitt athletics experience, it’s important to devote time to non-revenue sports. The programs are more successful than their mainstream counterparts, are enjoyable to watch, easy to attend, provide another chance to try new things and meet new people outside the realm of the athletic cash cows like basketball and football.

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