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Pitt, WVU unsure about continuing the Brawl

Friday, Nov. 25, 2011

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said he's excited for Friday night's 104th renewal of The Backyard Brawl between his school and Big East rival West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va.

But with Pitt leaving for the ACC and WVU for the Big 12, Pederson said he doesn't know the future of the series that has been played every year since 1943.

Pederson said he doesn't sense support from his fan base for continuing The Backyard Brawl in a nonconference format.

"I'd say it's pretty mixed, just in an initial response to it," he said, when asked what he's hearing from Pitt fans. "People feel both ways. It's been a good game. But if it doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense."

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who was unavailable for comment for this story, earlier this season said Pitt might value the rivalry more than WVU.

"We bring 25,000 fans to Heinz Field," he said during a Root telecast Oct. 1. "We fill it up. Pitt is not filling up Heinz Field on their own, so that game, from a financial perspective, is pretty important to them."

Pederson said those comments were "overstated, in terms of what is actually happening." He said West Virginia failed to sell its entire allotment of 4,400 tickets for the 2010 game at Heinz Field.

Pederson said Pitt has an opening on its 2012 schedule after TCU changed its mind about joining the Big East. That could, potentially, be a spot for the Mountaineers, but until WVU and the Big East clear legal hurdles, the future remains uncertain.

West Virginia is suing the Big East in hopes of leaving for the Big 12 this summer, instead of waiting the 27 months required by Big East bylaws.

In addition, the possibility of nine ACC games, Pitt's stated intention to play Notre Dame every year and 2016 and '17 games with Penn State create additional hurdles for scheduling West Virginia.

"I don't forsee it ending anytime soon," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Again, it's out of everybody's hands. We don't even know what conference we are going to be playing in next year, let alone what the schedule is going to be. All of that will get sorted out."

The sorting out could include untold number of meetings, contract signings, broken deals and legal proceedings, but Pederson has repeatedly pledged to honor his school's commitment to the Big East through 2013. He said Pitt isn't part of the WVU lawsuit against the Big East.

"Everybody is operating independently in how they are approaching this," Pederson said, when asked if West Virginia is doing the heavy lifting for Pitt and Syracuse in their attempts to flee the Big East.

"We kind of said from the outset, we would like to (leave) as quickly as possible. We are hopeful that it would be in everybody's best interest to move forward. But we also understand the Big East has to make some move positionally (before allowing the schools to leave early)."

Meanwhile, the shows goes on this season, with Pitt and West Virginia tied with Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati among Big East leaders with two losses each. The loser tonight forfeits nearly all hope of a BCS bowl berth, while the winner moves into "the catbird's seat," according to Pitt coach Todd Graham.

"It's going to be an electrifying atmosphere," Holgorsen said. "There are going to be tons of people there. There are going to be millions of people watching on TV. It's going to be a big deal."

Pitt senior nose tackle Myles Caragein said the game holds special significance to him and his teammates.

"I love this game," he said, "especially if I'm going down there. There is stuff being thrown at your bus and 2-year-olds flicking you off. It's something I'll never forget.

"I want the young guys to see how special it is to beat West Virginia."

Backyard Brawl Game day

Pitt at West Virginia

When/where: 7 p.m. Friday/Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.

TV/radio: ESPN/KDKA-FM (93.7), Pitt Radio Network, WVAQ-FM (101.9), WBGG-AM (970), Mountaineer Sports Network

Favorite: West Virginia by 7

Records: Pitt 5-5, 3-2 Big East, West Virginia 7-3, 3-2 Big East

Series: Pitt leads, 61-39-3

Last time: 2010; West Virginia, 35-10

Outlook: Pitt and West Virginia enter the game tied in the loss column for first place in the Big East with Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati. ... West Virginia has allowed 47, 49 and 38 points in their losses to LSU, Syracuse and Louisville. ... The Mountaineers lead the Big East in touchdowns (44) and yards per game (479.4).




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