James Franklin would like to see Penn State and Pitt play again at some point in the future, but he added a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen.
“I think we’ve got to be creative in the ways that we look at it,” Franklin, the Nittany Lions’ head coach, said.
The biggest issue at this point, the coach noted, comes down to the number of conference games each team plays. Penn State and Big Ten teams must play nine league games, while Pitt and ACC teams play only eight.
Many fans who want the series to resume may or may not realize it, but the nine versus eight element is an enormous difference in college football.
“That factors into scheduling philosophies,” Franklin said. “That has an impact on it, and I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”
If all conferences played on what Franklin called “a level playing field,” with the same number of league games, then the coach said, “That would help.”
“You look at a lot of the teams that are playing these historical rivalry games, a lot of those schools and a lot of those conferences are playing eight games,” Franklin said. “The SEC is playing eight games. The ACC is playing eight games.
“That creates some challenges,” the coach concluded.
It’s challenging because Franklin’s philosophy is this: Play two easy teams that are guaranteed wins, and use the third non-conference game to play a major program. The coach wants to rotate the major programs the Lions play, and he simply doesn’t want to use that third game to play Pitt every year.
Franklin did bring up an idea that hasn’t gotten much push in the past. He suggested that Penn State and Pitt could play a neutral site game.
The glaring issue is that there’s no stadium in the region big enough to host a major college football game.
Why would Franklin want to play at a neutral site? One practical matter is that it could be a one-game scenario for just one season, rather than a home-and-home series of any kind that would lock up a key spot on the schedule for two years.
Franklin is open to discussing all possibilities about how to make things work in the future. But …
“It’s got to equally make sense for both parties,” he said. “It’s got to make sense for Pitt. It’s got to make sense for Penn State.”
Franklin then made a point to mention the Lions drew more than 100,000 fans to Beaver Stadium for non-conference games against Idaho and Buffalo, which was his way of saying that PSU can get a big crowd for just about anyone it plays, regardless of it’s a rival or not.
As for the rivalry, Franklin continued his longstanding policy of not putting any more public emphasis on this game than any other opponent. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has always referred to these matchups as big games, but Franklin has avoided doing that at every turn.
“Do we understand that this is a big game to the media and to the fans and to the lettermen and college football?” Franklin said. “Yeah, we are not burying our heads in the sand. We understand the significance and the impact of this game. But our approach does not change.
“We believe Sunday through Friday that we are going to prepare the same, week in and week out. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what you’re doing or where the game is going to be played or what the weather is going to be like, none of those things change.”
One other interesting item Franklin mentioned about the PSU-Pitt series is how it can turn negative in some ways. He didn’t get into specifics, but clearly there’s a lot of trash talking going on this week between fans from both schools.
“There’s aspects of this game that bring out the worst of both fan bases and populations,” Franklin said, “and I know some people may say that’s good. I don’t know if that’s good. I think we can have a great game without all that other stuff.”