What happens to the Backyard Brawl?

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
4:00
PM ET
The shifting college football landscape has begun to put tradition on the back burner. Nebraska versus Oklahoma? See ya. Texas versus Texas A&M? Up in the air.

Pitt versus West Virginia?

That is the big question about to confront both schools as the next round of realignment begins. Pitt is moving on to the ACC, meaning the classic rivalry game will now be a nonconference affair. Already, there is fear for what happens to one of the oldest running rivalries in college sports without the same conference to call home.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said Sunday he hoped the series would continue, and noted that it existed well before the two were members of the Big East. Indeed, the two rivals began playing in 1895, and the rivalry has turned into one of the most heated in all of college sports. Not just among the fans, but among the players as well.

On Monday, coach Pitt coach Todd Graham was asked about the future of the game, and he offered not much in the way of an answer. "I have no idea," Graham said. "It's one of the great rivalries in college football. You would hope it would continue. I have no idea what the future holds."

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he was just worried about X's and O's.

Certainly, coaches have football to worry about right now. Scheduling decisions often are made at the administrative level, with some input from coaches. But here is an open plea to all parties to keep this game going -- for the rivalry, the fans, the players and college football.

That way, there would be some sense of order in the college football world. What is happening with realignment has made plenty of fans uneasy because they see the dollar signs involved and the slow whittling away of the traditional rivalries and passion that has made college football so incredibly powerful. What remains are schools that will be separated by thousands of miles, little in common and no shared dislike for the other.

Pitt already has lost one annual rivalry game with Penn State shortly after the Nittany Lions decided to join the Big Ten. That game was one of the biggest, most important games in the nation, but the two teams have not played since 2000. They are back on the schedule for 2016 and 2017 (that game is not in danger of being canceled with the ACC move), but the game no longer has the same meaning.

And why did they stop playing? Penn State wanted two home games for every road game, a non-starter for Pitt. Many Pitt fans also blame Joe Paterno for holding a grudge against the program for joining the Big East instead of an Eastern conference he wanted to form.

Whoever is to blame, it is an utter shame that the game ended. Now you have to wonder whether hurt feelings and future scheduling demands put Pitt-West Virginia on the brink of extinction, too. One of the biggest factors that will come into play is how many conference games the ACC will have in the future. If the league goes to a nine-game conference schedule, that leaves just three nonconference games. Would the Panthers want West Virginia to be one of those every year?

And what of West Virginia? Where will the Mountaineers land? Will they want the rivalry game on the schedule year after year?

There are no answers right now. But it is safe to say college football is nothing without its rivalries. Let us hope sense prevails, along with Pitt versus West Virginia.

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