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Pitt-PSU renew for a day

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Wednesday, June 7, 2006

There's only one place left in the state where you can find Pitt and Penn State football players engaged in competition, and it's not Heinz Field or Beaver Stadium.

It's the Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort & Conference Center in Blairsville.

That is where approximately 50 former players and coaches -- familiar names such as Tony Dorsett, Shane Conlan, Johnny Majors, Eric Ravotti and Jerry Sandusky -- gathered Tuesday for the second annual Pitt-PSU Golf Challenge and raised $120,000 for children's charities.

And that is where yours truly raised a familiar question: Will these schools ever play football again?

The topic has been beaten beyond recognition, but doesn't deserve to die. There is no good reason why such a historic, natural rivalry shouldn't be revived. It's maddening to look at the teams' non-conference schedules and see The Citadel, Youngstown State, Akron, Toledo, Central Florida and Temple, but not each other.

I realize Penn State needs as many home games as possible to help fund 30-some sports, but it could surely find a way to work Pitt back into its schedule, even if Pitt continues to refuse -- rightfully -- to play two of every three games at Beaver Stadium.

I also realize Pitt has more to gain in reviving the 96-year-old series, which was discontinued in 2000 for the second time in seven years. There are no plans to renew.

"I'd love to see it come back," former Penn State linebacker Mike Zordich said. "If you ask a lot of guys here, they'd say the same."

At this point, it's useless to assign blame, though most of it clearly rests with Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who never got over the fact that Pitt joined the Big East basketball conference in 1982 instead of joining him in an all-sports Eastern conference.

Pitt hasn't avoided pettiness, either, packaging tickets to the 2000 game at Three Rivers Stadium with a Temple game and thus jacking up the price for Penn State fans.

None of that matters now. What matters is finding a solution. Here's an easy one: The state legislature should force the schools to play each other.

"The legislature could do that, seeing as both schools enjoy getting money from the state," said Walt Bielich, who played offensive line at Pitt half a century ago and now is the executive director of the Pitt Varsity Letter Club.

"I think the state should get involved," Zordich said.

Obviously, lawmakers have more important things to worry about -- like whether to give themselves a pay raise -- but they've concerned themselves with less important issues, too.

This is, after all, the same state that has a law which prohibits singing in the bathtub.

Majors knows of one state legislature that forced the renewal of a college football rivalry.

"When I was at Iowa State, Iowa wouldn't play us because we were the underdogs and didn't have any tradition," he said.

In stepped state senator Bill Reichardt, who'd been a star player at Iowa. He sponsored a bill to resume the series, which was dormant from 1934-77. It is alive and well today.

"I think this state is missing a lot in terms of keeping our resources within it," Majors said. "Pitt-Penn State is good for the state. It's good for the people."

Certainly, it's better than Pitt-Toledo or Penn State-Temple.

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