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Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke addresses tarping Heinz Field, extending Penn State series

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 12:12 p.m.
Pitt Pat Narduzzi and Penn State head coach James Franklin chat before the game Saturday Sept. 10, 2016 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt Pat Narduzzi and Penn State head coach James Franklin chat before the game Saturday Sept. 10, 2016 at Heinz Field.

Attendance for Pitt football at Heinz Field has remained low this season, but athletic director Heather Lyke hopes to change the perception of an empty stadium.

Speaking to the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in her hometown of Canton, Ohio, she said Heinz Field is “a fabulous venue,” but she suggested tarping off seats in strategic areas of the stadium.

“I think we can play at Heinz Field,” she said Monday, according to a story in the Canton Repository. “I think it's a fabulous venue. Could you build an on-campus facility? It's really difficult.

“The opportunity we have at Heinz Field is to right-size the stadium, to banner, to intentionally wrap (excess seats). It's 68,000 seats right now, which is in the top quartile of the Power Five schools and there's really only 10-20 schools in the country that really draw consistently over 80,000. There's a way to make the stadium seem smaller, but the amenities at Heinz Field are phenomenal. We're going to make the best of it.”

Pitt plays North Carolina on Thursday night at Heinz Field, hoping to improve on the crowd of 30,889 at the most recent home game Oct. 28 against Virginia. It was the smallest turnout for a Pitt football game at Heinz Field since 2007.

Lyke said she also is working on extending the series with Penn State beyond 2019 when the current four-year agreement is set to expire.

“We have a contract very close to being done and being sent to Penn State to extend the football deal,” she said, “and I think that's a huge priority and a huge rivalry and it's necessary, so we're working hard on that.”

The 2019 game at Penn State will be the 100th in the series.

She also believes Pitt baseball can be competitive against the warm-weather schools in the ACC.

“I played softball at Michigan,” she said, “so I don't think it's an excuse to be in the cold weather. The reality is it's about coaching and recruiting. Our facility is middle of the road as far as the ACC is concerned. Our practice facilities and our training facilities are not at the middle of the road. They're at the bottom of the road.

“We have a big facility and master plan and we're looking to transform our athletic facilities from a competitive standpoint.”

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