Penn State’s last game in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future will be played under the lights.
The initial primetime schedule for the 2018 season was released Wednesday with the Nittany Lions taking on rival Pitt at 8 p.m. on Sept. 8 at Heinz Field. ABC will carry the broadcast.
It didn’t come as a surprise that this one would be played at night. A month earlier, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that their game scheduled for that night at nearby PNC Park would be moved to the afternoon to allow for Penn State and Pitt to play after dark instead.
The game is the third in a four-game series between the Lions and Panthers, which will end after the 100th meeting between the schools in 2019. The home team split the first two games with Pitt prevailing 42-39 in 2016 and Penn State earning a 33-14 win last season at Beaver Stadium.
Back in 2016 for a noon kickoff at Heinz Field, the game broke a record for largest attendance for any sporting event in the history of the city.
Though Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke has been vocal about trying to extend the series past next fall, her Penn State counterpart, Sandy Barbour, said recently that it likely won’t happen for another decade at least.
“We’ve had conversations,” Barbour told Lions247 last week during a stop in New York for the program’s Coaches Caravan. “I think at this point that we both agree based on Big Ten and ACC scheduling principles — it’s a complicated puzzle nowadays — that we’re not gonna do anything at this point. Maybe look at some point after (2030) to do something.”
Barbour and Lions coach James Franklin both cited the expanded nine-game Big Ten schedule and a desire to rotate the marquee non-conference opponent as reasons for not continuing to play the Panthers every year.
Penn State depends on revenue from a minimum of seven football home games to help fund the rest of the athletic department. That means in odd-numbered years when the Lions must play five Big Ten road games, all three non-conference games must be played at home, hurting the program’s scheduling flexibility.
After the Pitt series concludes, Penn State has home-and-home contracts set up to play Virginia Tech (2020, 2025), Auburn (2021-22) and West Virginia (2023-24).
“I certainly have great respect for the rivalry, but at the same time I also know that it’s important to Penn State fans that we play some of the regional rivals,” Barbour said. “… And we’re looking at what we would consider to be some attractive alternatives, and we want to have the flexibility to do that.”
Franklin visiting NEPA soon
Though the scaled-down Coaches Caravan only made three stops this spring, sticking to major cities, Franklin will still be swinging through the area next week.
Franklin will headline the 40th annual dinner for the Greater Scranton Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association at 6 p.m. on May 23 at Genetti Manor in Dickson City.
Tickets are $50 with a cash bar starting at 6:30 p.m. and the dinner at 7:30 p.m. A meet-and-greet session with Franklin will be held before dinner. Tickets are available by calling 570-963-2537 or by visiting sites.google.com/site/psugreaterscranton.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse