It is one week until Christmas Eve and time is getting short to get those special requests into The Christmas Guy Who Gives Out Things so that our football program can grow and be like the big programs. Just like those powerhouses Ohio State, Penn State…
Wait a second friends! Is that what we really want? Do Pitt fans want to have our program become so big and powerful that it influences other aspects of the university in a negative way?
Not me. I like Pitt football’s place in the Pitt world just fine.
Every time I think about PSU’s past pedophile scandal and it’s cover-up I get a bit sick . More recently we have read about North Carolina’s prescribed program to keep borderline athletes in school by enrolling them in ‘paper classes’ and artificial grades.
It doesn’t stop there. College football has been hit with some atrocious news regarding schools, teams and coaches, the list is hard reading but true. However, you know what I don’t see in all of this?
Any references to the University of Pittsburgh, that’s what. And how very satisfying is that fellow Pitt fans?
Pitt never having been censured or sanctioned by the NCAA for rules violations is as rewarding to me as a Pitt fan as our nine national championships. Most schools can’t do say that – Pitt can and is still doing things the right way.
If you’ve read my stuff for the last seven or so years then you also know that I hold Pitt to high standards when it comes to the football program. I believe there is a higher calling to athletics as entwined into a university’s life than just winning games.
Some fans don’t feel that way though and if so I ask them… then why are you so supportive and proud of James Conner? He’s a good football player but that isn’t why we love him so much. He’s been awarded every personal honor under the sun yet almost none of them had to do with yards gained or touchdowns scored.
In all honestly, and strictly as a football player, Conner’s current season doesn’t jump out on the national scale. He’s played well but not like he did in 2014. His successes at Pitt didn’t necessarily tie into us winning championships or even having constant winning seasons; in his great 2014 season we went 6-7. His first year at Pitt we were 7-6. Pretty average actually… so why then do we all love him?
It is because we, and the sporting world, look at young Mr. Conner and see a man who has battled the worst life can throw at you and has done it gracefully and with his mind set on helping others as he’s fought his own illness. And as he won his battle he worked hard with others patients, some much younger, to fight their battles and in doing so won many hearts along the way.
In the midst of his turmoil he understood his real importance in life – that of being a role model to others and it had nothing to do with touching a football but everything to do touching young hearts.
No, what sets him apart and makes others place him on a pedestal (which he quickly steps down from each time its done) is his inherent goodness and his understanding of the true meaning of his time on earth. He’s played and lived through travails most of us will never have to face because that is what he is and what he’s been taught.
In doing that he’s shone the most positive of light on an institution that not only gave him a platform to succeed between the lines on the playing field but in a very real sense saved his life. Most schools don’t do the full and detailed medical screening that Pitt does with our athletes. It was that ‘unnecessary’ screening that revealed the carcinoma in his chest and started him on his long, hard journey.
This is the type of caring decision-making and athletic department I want Pitt to always have.
It is also an athletic department which was reeling under negative press just six years ago with years of double-digit player arrests, some because of horrific violent actions, which put a lot of real stress on the institution’s sterling reputation.
What does Pitt do? They made major changes in the football program, got rid of a large part of the roster and began to recruit true student/athletes who weren’t historically inclined to crime or misbehavior. That isn’t an easy thing to do in this day and age but Pitt did it and look at the results.
Remember Pitt fans loudly stating that you have to have thugs on the team to win games? Remember all those high school kids who Paul Chryst recruited and who fans called ‘just choirboys‘ and looked down their noses at?
What those lowly recruits did was grow to become the strong and dedicated team we have seen win eight games in the past two years under Pat Narduzzi. When he was hired Narduzzi grasped the impact of recent history at Pitt and strove continued the positive and good way forward than he had begun early on with his recruiting and leadership.
That he has done and well.
On his watch numerous arrests before has turned into only two arrests since July of 2015, when he first arrived, of players who were not recruited by him. He handled those arrests with the exact amount of discipline needed and it worked out well for both the offenders and for the university.
So Narduzzi has shown us the important fact you can win games and still have a 360° football program fans can be damned proud of. Kudos to him and to Pitt for doing that and continuing down that right path. They gasped the importance of their respective positions and responded accordingly.
My own holiday wish list is this then.
I want a Pitt to keep its priorities in order and to keep this mission statement close to heart:
The University’s mission is to:
- provide high-quality undergraduate programs in the arts and sciences and professional fields, with emphasis upon those of special benefit to the citizens of Pennsylvania;
- offer superior graduate programs in the arts and sciences and the professions that respond to the needs of Pennsylvania, as well as to the broader needs of the nation and the world;
- engage in research, artistic, and scholarly activities that advance learning through the extension of the frontiers of knowledge and creative endeavor;
- cooperate with industrial and governmental institutions to transfer knowledge in science, technology, and health care;
- offer continuing education programs adapted to the personal enrichment, professional upgrading, and career advancement interests and needs of adult Pennsylvanians; and
- make available to local communities and public agencies the expertise of the University in ways that are consistent with the primary teaching and research functions and contribute to social, intellectual, and economic development in the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.
I do not want athletic glory at all costs to be mixed in with the above mandate in any way.
I want Pat Narduzzi to keep an eye on what is as, if not more important, than winning games. That is his charge from the university to take young high school boys and develop them into well-rounded and decent student athletes who will graduate and make the University proud during their time at Pitt and beyond. That is my mission statement for him.
I want the current and future Pitt football players to understand that a scholarship to play at the university of Pittsburgh is not an inherent right but a gift and bargain given to them with the understanding that both sides have rules, requirements and a debt to be paid. It isn’t enough to just suit up and play ball.
There is a need for the student-athlete to understand that he is indeed in a partnership with not just the football program or athletic department but the school as a whole and as such he is placed in a position of real personal responsibility. If one forgets or can’t figure out how to do that then call James Conner as soon as possible.
I want Pitt fans to understand above all that even though athletics is but a small part of a university’s life it is still a very important one. But that level of importance should never be risen above the University’s well-being itself. Football at Pitt is a “part of” and not “the reason for“.
When we fans forget that; when we look at Pitt football players and see only that they are hired players in uniform and not young men with the same life problems any student in college has, then we have lost hold of the spirit in which college football is played and enjoyed.
That spirit isn’t the school’s responsibility, nor is it the athletes’; it is ours as fans. When we overly criticize or insult a Pitt player personally it says way more about us than it does about him.
Because like it or not we fans are role models also. When attending a game let’s not forget for a minute that all those Pitt students attending also are watching us as adults and how we behave. Good sportsmanship should transcend school ties and be the rule of the day and not the exception.
When we travel to other school’s campuses to attend an away game we need to understand we are representing the University – the same as when other school’s fans are visitors to our home games. We are Pitt ambassadors by our intent and our actions and should accept that responsibility willingly. If one can’t truly understand the positive competitive spirit in which inter-collegiate sports is played than maybe a second thought about why we are a fan in the first place is in order.
Finally, for my holiday gift to myself I want to be the best Pitt fan I can be.
That means I support and represent the university through my maturity and sense of joy. It is easy to blindly believe, follow without question, criticize or love something 100% without reservation. It is also not, for me, the correct way to undertake what is and has been a big part of my adult life.
If something is important to me as I have allowed Pitt football to become then I care about it in all ways – and not just in what the scoreboard says. When the time comes that all this isn’t enjoyable for me any longer; when it is more than just a small worry or a good feeling depending, then I’ll back off and examine just what I am doing and why I’m doing it.
College football is wonderful and Pitt football is great and fun and I want to keep seeing it that way. If I criticize I need to have a basis for it; if I praise the same applies. But in no terms will I forget that, above all, these are young men out there on the field of play wearing Pitt uniforms and they are doing the best they can do for us – the fans.
I owe them a debt of thanks for their efforts, just as I owe the University the same and I’ll try my best to show that appreciation every time I am acting as a Pitt fan and so representing the University. That will be a gift I give myself when I look in the mirror.
Happy Holidays however you celebrate… even if a bit early.