In a week that seemed poised to be dominated by Pitt-centric headlines in the Pittsburgh media, head coach Pat Narduzzi made a surprising statement to kick off Pitt’s “rivalry week” leading up to Saturday’s highly anticipated game against Penn State. At Monday afternoon’s press conference, Narduzzi announced that Pitt’s practices would be closed off from the media, and that there would be no player interviews leading up to this weekend’s matchup. Almost immediately, local Pittsburgh media members took to Twitter to air their grievances about the controversial decision, and it’s easy to see why. Obviously for members of the media, being closed off from practice and players makes their job harder, but this isn’t just bad for the media, it’s bad for the program. It’s been no secret that Pitt has struggled with attendance, branding, and general excitement around the program over the last few years, and Narduzzi shouldn’t be doing anything to impede what could be a huge opportunity for positive press for Pitt football. Pitt has not played a true rivalry game since their last meeting against West Virginia in 2011, and have not played in-state foe Penn State in 16 years. Any additional press leading into this game should be welcomed by Narduzzi and Pitt. For a team that has lacked hype, and any sort of national presence in recent memory, this could have a been a great opportunity to raise Pitt’s profile.
Narduzzi stated in his press conference that he wants to be, “the only voice” for the team, but by doing that, he is silencing potentially intriguing storylines leading into the Penn State game, most notably James Conner’s first big test since returning from his battle with cancer. While Narduzzi’s decision is a bad move in the short term, it looks even worse in the grand scheme of things. Pitt is already competing for local coverage with three professional teams, something very few college programs have to deal with, and by straining the relationship with the media, he risks reducing the already small coverage given to Pitt sports.
In addition to competing with three professional sports teams for media attention, Pitt also deals with the perception that they are not the premier college team in the state of Pennsylvania. This perception fuels lackluster coverage of Pitt football, even in years when Penn State does not have a strong team. With the built in disadvantages of playing in a pro-sports town and an often disinterested media, Narduzzi doesn’t need to give media members any reasons to not cover Pitt. Ultimately, Narduzzi’s decision will undoubtedly generate press, but not the kind that Pitt fans want, or that the program needs.