A Long Look Back at Pitt’s history and its Athletics.

This article is written by a friend of mine who prefers to remain anonymous. Rest assured that his history with, and knowledge of, the inner workings of the University are such that his word is solid and match much of what I know about the earlier years of the University also.

The article by Notrocketscience on the apathy of Pitt Alumni was timely for those who wonder about the commitment to building loyalty. Perhaps not so good in timing with LOI Day approaching as rival coaches and family members who would prefer not to have the athlete sign with Pitt relishing any negativity.

I’d like to offer some commentary regarding the Pitt Alumni. I’ve been a Pitt fan for 63 years. I go back to when my cousins played for Pitt, and I got to know members of the 1955 and 1956 Pitt bowl teams. I later shared a hospital room with a Pitt football captain, so players and coaches were constantly there. I’ve also had cousins and a brother-in-law who were professors at Pitt. So, there is a little family and personal affiliation with the University other than just my undergraduate degree.

If you don’t mind me going back before most of you readers were born, let me recount some of Pitt’s history.

People forget or are unaware of Pitt’s history as a private university until the financial repercussions of Chancellor Litchfield’s massive effort to turn Pitt into an Ivy League member. He spent lavishly to build new facilities while hiring away top professors from other institutions. That was an exciting and challenging time for Pitt.

Daresay we even looked down on Penn State as just a state party school for applicants who couldn’t muster the SAT’s required at Pitt. No one thought of West Virginia other than on the football field. Ohio State and Michigan were not nearby, so they seldom were a factor in the area. Pitt had many New York City area students and sadly too few African-American students. It was such a different time as we went through the fifties and sixties with the cultural and civil right changes.

We sadly saw our university need to affiliate with the State due to a financial crisis, thus Pitt became “State Related”.  We still had our traditional foes Notre Dame, Penn State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Army, and Navy, plus a bevy of opponents from other areas: Boston College, Miami, UCLA, Oregon, Oklahoma, Nebraska, California, and others.

There was no real conference, but the Beast of the East title was a goal. We all felt good about Pitt and the idea of Eastern Football. Independence enabled Pitt to schedule across the country.

Then things started changing with the advent of television’s great need for live sports for younger males. First, ABC dominated then added ESPN later. Not to get into all the changes, but colleges saw the financial rewards for athletic success, so the race was on for national recognition, the betterment of coaches, more dynamic athletic directors, and alumni/fan support groups.

Pitt was richly rewarded by John Conomikes (a top executive of Hearst Broadcasting) as he helped build the Golden Panthers and corner people to help support Pitt’s athletic department.  Ok, two sports being football first and basketball second. In the 1990’s the conference alignment scramble began.

What many don’t know is the effect of Pitt’s changing from a semester system to a Trimester school year. That move alone destroyed the old concept of “Class of XXXX” as you could have finished your college requirements in as little as two and a half years or chose to have more time to earn money and graduate after four years.

Students from that point on lost a sense of identity with classmates other than if they were friends.. So, unlike other schools that had a genuine sense of “Class of XXXX,” we didn’t.  To this day, that is my biggest sad memory of Pitt. Since then I’ve garnered a professional and graduate degree from elsewhere. From experience, graduate students have a different life experience with a university than do the undergraduates.

Also, fraternities and sororities were not prolific at Pitt. Yes, they existed.  But, they were a tiny part of Pitt and not influential at all.  They were certainly, nothing like the fraternity rows that one can see at Georgia, Penn State, Miami (Ohio) and other schools.

So now, let’s talk about Oakland. Even back then (please forget the comments about our covered wagons on Fifth or Forbes), Oakland was a mish-mash of older mill worker homes on one side of Forbes and then a section of fine older gentry brick homes with nice lawns, etc. on the other side of Fifth Avenue. Nothing could be done to change that as the mills were still in operation while Pittsburgh was the 3rd corporate center in America and the 7th largest city in America (a surprise to many).

Growth was the building out of Pitt facilities as well as hospitals expanding throughout Oakland in addition to new suburbs. Oakland was Pitt. How could that be changed? Not through urban planning which was busy destroying the second most vital business and residential district of Pittsburgh, the East End (East Liberty area) with its massive homes and prosperous retail district.

The city of Pittsburgh as we all know went through terrible times with the collapse of the heavy metal industries and the merger of so many Pittsburgh based corporations thus causing those businesses to leave. Nearly half the population of the city left to find new work opportunities that didn’t require higher education or a struggle with economic uncertainty.

With this scenario, Pittsburgh was fighting to survive with the many amenities it offered but supported by an older, declining base of citizens. Fortunately, both Pitt and Carnegie Mellon had leadership that recognized how inhospitable the area was becoming so they joined forces to bring technology and to use their professional staffs to help in the restructuring of Pittsburgh.

So far, they have been successful although the entire area needs more governmental consolidation to share expenses and amenities while cutting back duplication. Another key need of Pittsburgh is that the graduates of all the many colleges and universities in the area find employment there in the area to help continue Pittsburgh’s rebirth.

Merely pointing out the problems or considered lack of urban planning for the Oakland area does not address what is happening and why it happened. The cost to acquire land, demolish buildings, and build new structures is astronomical in tight areas with dense building. Unfortunately, this is true even for a resurrection of a campus football field with offices and other possibilities. It can be done but would the university consider it now?

What would be the impact of building a $300 million dollar stadium (just using that as a figure) with the needed parking and road access to allow fans to come and go from the six games a year at the stadium? Six games! Remember that none of the critics of Heinz Field know the lease deal for Pitt. The stadium is not owned by the Rooney Family. They pushed the authorities to fund the stadium based upon joint tenancy with Pitt, so it is very unlikely that Pitt has a bad financial deal. I would go so far as to say if Pitt had not taken that deal, Pitt football would not be alive today.

Unless the University of Pittsburgh decides to relocate to a bigger area with less complexity and with greater ease of construction, Pitt is where it is going to be.  They cannot simply move as Robert Morris did from downtown Pittsburgh to the suburbs.

In summary, what is the ability to engender great alumni participation? Pitt does not have the student body size of a Penn State or other larger schools such as seen in the Big10. But Pitt is in a fine academic and athletic conference. Perhaps something to be considered is what it appears that Gallagher and Lyke are doing in funding for Pitt athletics by improving facilities and salaries. They are taking an approach that with stability and good coaching, Pitt can be a consistent winner thus attracting more fans and greater alumni pride.

What will not happen at Pitt is trashing standards to get victories. What will not happen is placing athletics above the academic respect of the University of Pittsburgh. They should be hand in hand rather than the marketing side (Pitt athletics) being the head and academics the tail. If you want that to happen, go root for another school.

The endowment funds and donations of corporations would almost cease with a “sports at all cost” attitude.

We have been remarkably fortunate in both Paul Chryst and Pat Narduzzi for their strong support of their players and the commitment to get a degree from Pitt. Neither has turned a blind eye to violations of team or university rules. Perhaps the administration has felt comfortable now with such people guiding their programs thus the effort to improve the playing facilities, salaries, and needs of the programs. But, do not take this leeway for granted. That highway is not without an expectation of success or there would be a termination.

How many alumni, fans, and people with ties to Pitt take the time to purchase tickets, donate tickets, pledge money, and even sit their fannies in Heinz Field or The Peterson Center to watch the teams.

Is it too much time involved? Too much trouble? Too expensive?

I don’t know how much cheaper people expect tickets to be. Am I foolish to believe that once you get your degree, you will find a career and earn enough to support yourself and a family plus have discretionary income?

No, the fault lies with the people, not the institution. Pitt is doing everything the right way without repeating the mistakes of the past. Patience, support, and encouragement are what is needed from the fans.

30 thoughts on “A Long Look Back at Pitt’s history and its Athletics.

  1. Not quite sure how to respond to this. I go back almost as far as the writer, but come from a somewhat different prospective. My family wasn’t tied to the elite at Pitt, rather we came from the simple working families that made up the surrounding areas. There was not love lost between these people and the snobs, as they were referred to.
    Pitt did very,very little to ingratiate the locals. I remember my father in law joyfully recalling how Joey Divan put several members of the football team in the hospital the night before the Notre Dame game one year. The locals (the poor) absolutely hated the snobs. This is also part of our history, one which we often choose to deny or ignore.
    I probably chose Pitt to spite some of my relatives. I remember my uncle, who played for Duquesne in the 30s when they were very good telling me not so flattering stories about the Panthers, and the haughty attitudes of the Pitt administration and culture.
    I would agree with some or most of the article, but do think this thinking is still ultra conservative and more in line with the thinking of the 1930s than the current college realities. If, in fact, they take this attitude, they should drop in class. It will still be a fine school, but more like Case-Western.
    I guess I think Pitt has always had a disconnect with the community, and those who were part of the culture never really recognized it. More deniers than movers and forward thinkers. Yes, they brought technology and new industry, but still had a snarky, we know best attitude.
    Well, that’s just a different look from a different Pitt alum. Always more than one way to see things I guess.

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  2. I guess if the BOT got together and penned a joint press release, this is what it would sound like!

    I go back 54 years and got to know (and idolize) players on the 63-64 team. I came to Pitt and commuted for my first two years 2 years because of Pitt Football, no other reason. . My Aunt Helen hung with the elites and used to tell stories like the one posted above. To me, Fraternities were a huge part of Pitt life. Mine changed my life forever and include my best friends to this day. We may not have had the castles like the Southern schools, but we had nice Frat houses and Greek life was huge on campus.

    It is there for all to see why the elites like the poster above think and act like only “they” know what is best for Pitt. How miopic!

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  3. The great thing about a university, and certainly Pitt, is that it brings together people with different backgrounds and ideas — so that we all benefit.

    I’m a 72 grad, forever season ticket holder, and my Pitt football memories go back to watching weeknight game replays on WQED —- 3 C’s – Cox, Clemons, Cunningham!

    Pitt’s challenge and charm lies in its integration with the city.

    It’s great to read the perspectives and ideas regarding how we arrived here and how we can improve our university.

    I’ll bet we all agree that winning football and basketball games would help— a lot.

    PS. Let’s skip the attacks on each other.

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  4. Winning does cure all as The Pete was always sold out when PITT was winning in what seems a lifetime ago. I’d love to see some winning in football…

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  5. What I’m going to write here will probably be not very well received (so what else is new?) But here are a few points to ponder:

    1) Non-alums who post here have a far greater grasp of reality than do the alums. The success of the late 70s will not be repeated … ever. Yes, the team may compete for a Coastal title, but even this will not be an annual event.

    2) This alum fantasy here is exemplified in this constant clamor for an OCS, which simply has as much chance of happening as me sleeping with Charlize Theron.

    3) An OCS is not the answer to Pitt’s issues. Pitt FB is much better draw for the majority of fans who attend (non-students) when the stadium is more accessible, and getting in and out of Oakland remains a nightmare.
    I do agree that 47,000 seat stadium will be a major plus, but just not in Oakland.

    4) Pitt does NOT have a campus. There is no continuity of classrooms, dorms and living quarters, and admin buildings. The two most recognizable UPitt structures nowadays are the Cathedral and the Pete. Yet, if you walk from one to the other, you walk by nothing but public and private building and businesses

    My office was in the Rangos Research Center (directly across from Montiefore) and I would eat lunch every day between the Forbes and Fifth corridor. I also attended several meeting at Children’s (which of course is gone). I also would walk up to the Pete in its early years to attend BB games. At no time did I ever feel I was on a college campus. The only area where there is such a feel is across from the Field House where the athletic fields and a few dorms are … yet that is so compacted, it only has a feel of a small branch campus.
    Heck, go PSU Beaver or PSU Behrend …. both of them have a much greater campus feel than Oakland.

    5) We all know the many constraints that the Pitt FB program faces these days, and they are real! But beyond those, there have been 14 HC coaches since the mid 60s. In this millennium alone, Pitt has had 5 head coaches …. and I didn’t even count interims or Heyward. In this millennium alone, Pitt has had 5 ADs … and I didn’t count interims but did count Barnes. IMO, all things considered, Pitt FB is overachieving.

    Now all of you alleged Pitt FB fans/ alums can continue with your pointless cries for an OCS, insisting the current AD fired after only 6 months, and criticizing everything the HC does including scrutinizing every sentence said in press conferences, etc, etc ….. but it’s not going to help nor is it constructive or realistic.

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    1. I don’t believe I’ve ever found myself more in agreement with you. Although our perspectives on hoops seem in solid alignment.

      That said, I am not entirely sure about #4 above. I feel like it’s a campus all around Litchfield and the SU down to Katz. However I do think it’s very difficult to ascertain which buildings in Oakland are Pitt’s and which are not, but if that’s what you meant by “continuity” then I am with you there too. It’s interesting if someone were to look at photographs of Oakland from 90 years ago he/she would see a more traditional, idyllic looking “campus” but over the years all the green spaces have filled in with other streets and structures.

      For what it’s worth my freshman daughter is starting in Oakland in the fall. Besides the education one of the main appeals is the urban setting and access to all things Pittsburgh.

      P.S. I’m an alum so don’t paint too broadly.;-)

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      1. es, it’s what I meant by continuity. Pitt bldg, Pitt bldg, private office, private business, restaurant, health related office, Pitt bldg, etc

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    2. wwb.

      You are a dedicated poster. I appreciate that. And we definitely need more non-alumni support. That said..

      1.) This is a self-serving comment, backed by no data.
      2.) Good luck with Charlize!
      3.) Accessibility has zero to do with attendance. No study has ever shown that people don’t go to Pitt games because of traffic/parking.
      4.) Virtually EVERY building between the Pete and Cathedral (O’Hara and Bigelow being the preferred route) are Pitt buildings. In fact, the math and science departments dominate those blocks. We get it. You don’t like city schools. It’s not “CAMPUS” to you. But to me, my fellow alums and my Freshman son, the CAMPUS is more attractive than PSU Beaver or PSU Behrend. That’s why we chose to go to Pitt.
      5.) I actually agree here.

      I don’t want Lyke or Narduzzi fired.. yet. But “scrutinizing every sentence said in press conferences” is kind of the idea, right? It’s a press conference. The entire concept is to ascertain information based on the WORDS of the coach. No?

      You say some should be more constructive and realistic. But how is a post bashing alumni and offering ZERO solutions being constructive OR realistic.

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  6. Pitt doesnt have the family feel of most schools.

    Maybe its different for students today but I dont see how the attitude has changed towards alumni. I still feel alienated.

    This blog has brought me back to Pitt. Now school spirit can be improved in many ways. Having a nurturing and fun environment helps kids connect with the school. I could write an article on this alone.

    But heres what rubs me with Pitt:
    1. It treated me as a number as a student and still treats me this way today as an alumnus.

    Pitt does very little to encourage school spirit and doesnt understand why the current culture leads to poor donation rates.
    Pitt has been totally inept running the athletic program since the early 80’s. A string of poor leaders and terrible decisions. I’m surprised Pitt has a football program today. Not surprised that Pitt hasnt won any national championships in any sports since 1976.
    Pitt has been responsible for the landscape of Oakland. Pitt is Oakland. Throughout the years its done a poor job developing the area (with exception of medical complexes). Its done a good job pissing off residents and small business. Oakland could be so much better organized and so much better looking if the university took the lead.
    Pitt feels that supporting athletics will come at the expense of academics. They truly do not believe Pitt can be the Stanford of the East and have excellent academics and very good sports programs. The front porch is all talk.

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    1. Jay91, I anoint you the master the master of the non-reality. You want to disagree with what I wrote …. fine. But for you to infer that what was written in the article is mostly false, then you are just exemplifying my point ….. that many posters here just refuse to accept reality.

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      1. Thank you. Like the reality that virtually every building in the sector south of O’Hara to Bigelow are Pitt buildings?

        The original article is simply his opinion. And it’s an opinion that Pitt can do nothing to improve its situation. “It is what it is.” That is a premise with which I will always disagree.

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      2. And as for the comment, “I anoint you the master the master of the non-reality”, I believe those are the personal comments that do no good. I’m not hurt or offended that a perfect stranger would make assumptions about me or revert to name-calling.

        I’d just like to point out that I did neither. Merry Christmas!

        Signed,

        THE Master of the Non-reality

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  7. I didn’t think my article was all that negative. I stated where I believe the university could improve. I also stated that I loved my time at Pitt. I love and support Pitt in all the ways I can which includes attending many sporting events with friends and family.

    My only complaint is the lack of communication alumni receive.

    I am in the Information Technology world. I attend conferences for software companies and the big show at all theses conferences is when the CEO comes out and shares the companies future road map. The reason it is the highlight of the conference is that it sells!

    It sells the future plan
    It gets people excited

    Most importantly, it proves to the CORE customers that the company they are using has a plan, a plan they are excited to share with the world. It absolutely works.

    Pitt fans, alumni and non-alumni need to see the plan. Show us the stadium feasibility study was done, explain how great the Heinz field deal is, show us you are working with Bill Peduto, a Pitt alum himself, on a plan for Oakland. That is just a few things. I have read many other university plans. Yea, many do publish them and have press conferences.

    I am as far from sales as you can get, but I know clear communication is the key to a good relationship.

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  8. Most of the acreage of Pitt’s campus is on a hillside — you simply can’t build quads that the big land grant institutions have. I will say, it probably would have helped if the medical complexes were never built in and on some of the most highly visible parts the campus itself … IMHO, they really kill the college feel.

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  9. “..they really kill the college feel.”

    Almost as bad as loading students on a bus like cattle and transporting them 4.5 miles to a football game.

    Let the screaming commence.. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The article wasn’t negative.

    Barvo – “For what it’s worth my freshman daughter is starting in Oakland in the fall. Besides the education one of the main appeals is the urban setting and access to all things Pittsburgh.”

    Kind of to my point in the last post … and a big reason I went to Pitt. Pitt alumni speak about the city of Pittsburgh like Penn State fans talk about football. The campus is in Oakland but there really isn’t any boundaries. Shady Side, Squirrel Hill, South Side, The Strip, Downtown … all are part of the Pitt experience.

    I disagree about the “class of XXXX” argument. I’m the oldest of 6. I went to Pitt with the other 5 siblings all going to Penn State … with 4 graduating. All of my other siblings closest friends are from High School with limited contact with college friends. My closest friends, by far, are the people I went to Pitt with.

    Pitt is just a different experience. It blows peoples minds when I tell them I could probably count the number of house parties I went to on one hand. They have a hard time understanding that Pitt was a bar school. I was getting into bars at 18 and had a fake ID by the 2nd semester of my freshman year that worked all over Pittsburgh.

    Looking back on the ID, it’s hilarious. It was a FL drivers license. I used my Erie address except Ft. Lauderdale in place of Erie for quick recall. Same zip and street number … all I had to do is remember to say Ft. Lauderdale. Lol. Best of all tho, I had a big ass winter jacket on in this Florida drivers license representing Ft. Lauderdale.

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    1. So have you helped your daughter obtain her “new license” yet so she can fully enjoy her freshman year?

      What will she be studying? My daughter has Pitt on the top of her list but we are waiting on UMD which of course will be the far better financial option. 🙂

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  11. I agree that there needs to be a solid plan and proper communication.

    And having leaders to sell their vision. Pitt has been mainly negligent in this regards throughout the decades and is often more concerned with the university than the Oakland community.

    More concerned with research than teaching.

    More concerned with collecting a check from students than thinking beyond the numbers.

    School spirit and pride are lacking given the culture.

    And for the BoT to think we cant have a great front porch and excellent academics is just mind blowing to me. Would love an article on how Pitt’s BoT has been athletics worst enemy over the past 35 years.

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  12. I’ve always been a fan of building a multi purpose venue and rec center inside one of those hillsides. The first sub terrarium sports complex in the world. Old Pitt stadium was carved into one.

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  13. Bits and pieces of truth in many of these comments . My additions are : I graduated in 60, the 3 yrs after initiation of trimesters. I have kids and grand kids more recently graduated and none of my family used the continuous mode of trimesters. Class year is a non issue. Pitt does not transfer to next generation well.I have seen MANY happy Pitt alums with PS student children( and it is not that it is cheaper there as it once was). Blame the parents that do not give Pitt it’s due to their kids. An OC stadium would be a plus. Maybe my progeny went to Pitt because the went to football games in Oakland and got tours of the cathedral, the nationality rooms the Shenley and heard the history of Pitt Stadium. Yes, they also heard about the great PS and ND upsets of 1959 and the student walkouts and demonstrations that brought Oakland to a standstill the following mondays. Even more important we have always relied on western Pa.sports fans and we are losing that battle to Pro sports PS and WV and this is where an ongoing reputable program with top 20 or 30 rankings would make all the difference in the world. H2p

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  14. WWB: You posted “Non-alums who post here have a far greater grasp of reality than do the alums.” I guess I disagree. As a non alum, but a season ticket holder and member of the Fan Experience Committee, I seem to be a minority because I have some optimism. My reality is that I can uber to the game for $10, afford 2 season tickets, enjoy a competitive division 1 football team and more importantly..cheerleaders. 🙂
    People are talking about Pitt again, in a good way. Pitt has had no NCAA violations and no major controversies that I can remember, and is now improving on the field and on the campus. My reality is I am proud to be a Pitt fan. And I agree with one of the other posters that this blog invigorates and incites many of us. Discourse is good.

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    1. You say you ‘guess’ you disagree .. then you write just the opposite. I share your optimism and continue to proclaim Pitt FB has overachieved considering the constraints and ill-fated decisions made by the admin over the years.

      You say people are talking about Pitt in a good way … well that would be vey hard to recognize by reading this site. Heck, this site has resorted to picking apart every sentence uttered by the HC at his press conference.

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  15. A very provincial attitude with limited outlook. A hack for the Pitt administration? Sorry but this attitude is part of the disease which has kept Pitt football striving for mediocrity. Is he a trustee? He thinks with the rot of one.

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  16. My major beef with the opinion piece is that the fault lies with the people and not the institution.

    The fault lies with the BoT.

    The people are not inclined to care because of the way the people have been treated over the past 35 years and will continue to be treated unless a major cultural change happens.

    Pitt’s students, fans and alumni can truly have a great experience if the university changes its deep rooted mindset. Spirit and pride can be harnessed. A connection can be made with the university.

    Again, look at how other schools do it with high donation rates.

    And there is no reason why Pitt cannot seek a better balance between sports and academics. Pitt thinks sports is the dark side. Academics is the light and right. Pitt is a fool for thinking this way. The right pathway is in the middle. There you will find balance. The Pitt Force or Spirit is neither Sports nor Academics. Its the combination.

    Go see The Last Jedi and you will understand. Texas Joda says so.

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