We Pitt fans are mostly caught up in the moment and at this moment, or period of time more accurately, we are bemoaning the lack of support for the Pitt football program. At least we complain because it isn’t up to the level we feel it should be for Pitt to field competitive and, possibly, championship teams year in and year out. There are many reasons for this but the following article points directly to the main one. This is a fleshed out anonymously submitted email to me but echoes exactly my own knowledge of the modern history of the University and its relationships with it’s athletic department.
Pitt did not have a long tradition of big funding or emphasis on football or basketball between the greatly successful and national championship years of the 1930’s and the the less successful period before 2000.
Unlike the large land-grant universities or it being the sole major university in a given state, Pitt is surrounded by schools with far more alumni and fan contributions and external participation in supporting athletics. Pitt is not isolated Penn State with more than 40,000 graduates a year. Nor is Pitt like West Virginia as the dominant higher education edifice in the state. Pitt instead finds itself and its “regional territory” constantly raided by strong competitors Notre Dame, PSU, WVU, Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan State, Michigan, as well as fellow ACC members. Reality must hit sometime and it did 50 years ago.
Pitt had an Academic versus Athletic war going on in the 70’s and 80’s. Previously, this had happened in the Jock Sutherland days, but since that very early time Pitt had gotten along with middling success without a genuine fight between the two pillars of the university. But once Johnny Majors (45-45-1 at Pitt) and Jackie Sherrill (50-9-1) began their period of great success they pressured the university to relax some of the requirements to enable more athletically gifted but less academically strong athletes to be recruited. Also and based on their successes they asked for more money going to their programs.
That riled the academic side and caused large resentments as Pitt had recently changed from a purely private university to a state-related university because of financial problems. This threat of more money for athletics meant less for academic uses. We know which side won out; the academic side which Pitt did not want to diminish at the expense of a stronger athletic department.