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Starkey: Pitt should give Penn State a chance

| Sunday, July 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Penn State fullback Michael Zordich (left) and senior linebacker Michael Mauti give a statement in support of their team Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (AP)

State Farm dropped the Penn State football program. Should Pitt do the same?

The schools don't renew their dormant rivalry until 2016, and only then for a two-game series, but college football schedules are made years in advance.

Pitt could buy out of the renewal or mutually agree to nix it and look elsewhere. Penn State, after all, has become radioactive in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.

It's a tough call.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson declined comment. I took that to mean that if Pitt were thinking about striking the games, this wouldn't be the right time to say so. And if it were leaning toward playing them and perhaps extending the series, well, this wouldn't be the right time to say so.

The topic lit up the airwaves, where the overwhelming sentiment was to renew at least for the two games. The blog PittBlather.com received more than 600 replies to a poll asking whether fans still want to see Pitt-Penn State.

The No. 1 answer (29 percent) was yes, depending on “what steps Penn State takes in light of the Freeh Report.” That was followed by 25 percent saying yes unconditionally and 21 percent saying absolutely not.

It's understandable that some Pitt fans want nothing to do with Penn State. Their reasoning generally falls along these lines:

• Penn State has disgraced itself beyond imagination and cannot be trusted to transform its culture. Why associate with that university when one is not obligated? And wouldn't engaging Penn State on the field be furthering the practice of football worship?

• Penn State treated Pitt like an afterthought for years. Joe Paterno killed the series. Penn State actually demanded to play two of every three games at Beaver Stadium. (Pitt declined.) Penn Staters liked to brag they didn't need Pitt. Now the opposite is true. Get rid of them.

Even on the day last summer when the schools announced they would renew the series — and, man, does that seem like a long time ago — Penn State athletic director Tim Curley ruined the buzz by saying his school had little interest in going beyond 2017. The arrogance was astounding.

So, yes, I get the eradicate-Penn-State-from-the-schedule sentiment. But I don't agree with it.

If I'm Pitt, I am inclined to play the games and extend the series. I'm doing it first in the name of collegiality. When your neighbor is down, you don't kick him. You pick him up, even if he has not treated you well.

It's also good business for Pitt — which can always use a sellout — and I still believe the vast majority of the state's football fans want to see this game.

That said, if I'm Pitt, I am monitoring the situation closely over the next few years. I want to see if the Penn State Board of Trustees and president Rodney Erickson are to be trusted as caretakers of the university. I want to see them take tangible steps to eradicate the culture of secrecy.

As for the practice of football “worship,” to borrow the word of NCAA hypocrite — I mean president — Mark Emmert, anyone who believes such fervor will decline in State College or anywhere else is out of their minds.

I'm guessing Emmert was about halfway through his sanctimonious speech Monday, the one where he lowered the boom on Penn State, when coaches everywhere began circling the players they wanted to poach from Penn State's roster.

Not that anyone is putting winning before “nurturing” and “educating.”

By the time the series starts again, if it does, Penn State will be off probation. In the meantime, if Penn State comports itself like a school with which one would want to be associated, then by all means play the games.

Pitt should take the high road. Give Penn State's new football stewards a clean slate and a fair chance.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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