Why Pitt Should Play Football in Oakland
Written by: Bayard Miller
As the Pitt Panthers limped into the finish of a 21-10 trouncing at the hands of the Akron Zips, you could hear a pin drop as people went home disappointed after a second straight out-of-conference loss at home. You could also see thousands of vacant seats painted in glaring yellow, a visible symbol of how Heinz Field wasn’t made with Pitt football in mind.
The University of Pittsburgh de jure owns just as much of Heinz Field as the locally beloved Steelers, but anyone who has actually been to the North Side to watch football knows better. In Heinz Field’s “Great Hall”, 80% of the shrines dedicated to Pittsburgh football belong to the Steelers and their six Super Bowls. Only a few celebrate Pitt’s nine national titles. The word “Panthers” is written in the Steelers’ industrial font over the gates of the stadium instead of the iconic block-lettered “Pitt”, while the end zones feature the generic emblazoning of “Pittsburgh” on one side and bland diagonal lines in the other. Apparently, having an end zone with “Panthers” in it would be too difficult to change for NFL Sundays.
The end results of being treated as second-class citizens in our “home” stadium are empty seats, a weak home field advantage due to long bus rides, and an antiseptic feel on Pitt football Saturdays.
It wasn’t always this way though. Pitt football’s best days were when the Panthers played in Pitt Stadium atop famed Cardiac Hill. Old and decrepit by the 90’s, former Chancellor Mark Nordenberg elected not to renovate the famed stadium and keep football on-campus. Instead, Pitt went the less expensive route and chose to play in Three Rivers for a year before moving into Heinz Field. The House Pop Warner Built was torn down in 1999. In its place, the Peterson Events Center was built along with Panther and Pennsylvania Halls.
Very few would say that this exchange wasn’t worth it; Pitt basketball has certainly benefitted from moving out of the tiny Fitzgerald Fieldhouse and the Pete has an excellent and very popular gym. Panther and Pennsylvania Halls are popular dorms for upperclassmen and both buildings claim stunning views of Oakland and the city. Cardiac Hill has remerged better than ever since the loss of football; moving to Heinz Field could even be seen as a net positive. But why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?
Currently there are some tentative plans to move the Panthers back into Oakland. Some envision building a stadium into Panther Hollow, however there are tons of hurdles to clear if this dream is ever to become reality. There are property rights, park destruction, environmental costs, taxpayer burdens, and lack of parking space to take into account; but for supporters of the movement to get football back in Oakland like yours truly, having a plan is a great step in the right direction. The phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way” also comes to many a hopeful mind.
I think Pitt football would greatly benefit by following what I call “the Cincy model.” The University of Cincinnati plays the majority of their home games in the unique and quirky Nippert Stadium, somewhat hidden in the heart of the UC campus. The stadium holds 36,000 seats, which to some Pitt fans may seem inappropriately small, but considering the Akron attendance of about 40,000, it sounds about right to me. And every time there’s a big game for Cincinnati, the Bearcats simply move to Paul Brown Stadium for the day. The Panthers could have a 40,000 to 50,000-seat stadium on campus, but for matchups with Notre Dame or the upcoming Penn State game, we could easily make the move to the North Shore.
Pitt football has an incredibly storied history but it’s a program that has recently fallen on tough times and played second fiddle in the state to the Nittany Lions. While Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a top-flight program, I believe that creating a home for the Panthers would be a source of pride for the school and city, and could even lead to a program competing for championships once again.
Of course, there are several difficulties associated with moving back on campus, but for this writer, who is sick and tired of being overshadowed by the Steelers and Penn State, I’d say they’re worth tackling.