The 2016 College Football Playoff Selection Committee Killed Rivalries Like Pitt vs Penn State



Ryan Lewis intercepts Trace McSorley at the end of the 2016 Pitt vs Penn State football game at Heinz Field. (photo obtained from pittsburghpanthers.com)

 Kenny Pickett said on 93.7 The Fan that Pitt should play Penn State and West Virginia every year.  It sort of blew up as a hot take, even though everyone seemingly agrees.  However, it doesn’t seem like it will happen as long as the teams are out of each other’s conference. 

People will blame administrators for not being able to get it done.  One team wants too much out of the contract or another one doesn’t want to suffer a loss.  However, the real individuals at fault for this, and any other  nonconference rivalry ending, are those who participated in the 2016 College Football Playoff selection.

Rivalry Renewed

On September 10, 2016, the Pitt Panthers were hosting the Penn State Nittany Lions at Heinz Field.  It would be the first time the two teams would face off since the year 2000.  The interstate rivalry had been renewed for a 4-year contract, with each team hosting two of the four games.

The atmosphere was absolutely electric.  I remember arriving at the Cardello Lot at 7AM just to get a spot for a tailgate that was not expected to begin for a few hours.  However, I needed to make sure to have a spot for this game.

It was the biggest college football game of my fanhood.  The last time Pitt had played Penn State I was a mere seven years old and could not truly appreciate the rivalry between these two schools.  Having attended a school, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, that is more central PA than Pittsburgh, I knew a lot of Penn State fans.  Despite the rivalry being put on hold for 16 years, it was still fierce.

In fact, I think the hiatus made the rivalry even more heated because there was no proof of which school’s football team was better.  Arguments could only go so far, but it had been so long since they played that there was no proof to either side.  This game was going to prove one side right and one side wrong.

And the game absolutely lived up to the hype.  

Pitt took an early lead that one point seemed insurmountable.  At halftime Pitt was up two touchdowns and appeared to show no signs of slowing down.  However, the 4th quarter set the stage for a classic ending as Penn State narrowed the gap to a field goal.

As the Nittany Lions drove down the field, I could feel the weight of their momentum heavily on my shoulders.  I imagine the Pitt defense was feeling it even worse.  However, despite easily driving to the Panthers side of the field while picking up a 4th-and-16 on the way, Penn State QB Trace McSorley had no intention of playing it safe.  He chucked a deep ball into the end zone and right into the hands of Panther cornerback Ryan Lewis.  The interception ended the game in the Panthers favor.

It was an epic game that lived entirely up to the hype.  The tailgate lots were packed, the stadium was rocking and the rivalry was back on.  And then it wasn’t.

After four years of games between the two schools, the contract was not renewed.  Several Pitt fans blamed Penn State administrators while Penn State fans blamed Pitt’s.  However, it was neither school’s fault.  It was the 2016 College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

2016 College Football Playoffs

After the 2016 college football season came to an end, Penn State was snubbed from the playoffs.  Plain and simple. Even after winning the Big Ten Championship game, they were snubbed.

And the problem with this was the statement the Selection Committee made with this move.  They essentially said that we are going to base our decision on your number of losses and not the quality of your schedule.

If you compare the schedule of Penn State in 2016 to the schedule of the Washington Huskies, the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, strength of schedule was very much in favor of Penn State.  The only dominant teams in the Pac-12 that season were Washington themselves and USC.  Washington’s one loss that regular season was to USC.  It could also be argued that Penn State’s schedule was much tougher than Clemson’s (No. 3 seed) because of how bad the ACC was and continues to be.

However, the real eye openers come when you compare nonconference games.  While Penn State took on the task of Pitt, in order to try to grow the rivalry again, Washington took on Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State.  Clemson played Troy and SC State, but did take on an Auburn squad that finished ranked 24th.  However, Clemson also lost to Pitt granting even further credence to the Penn State argument. 

The Selection Committee, however, granted the final spot in the playoffs to a one-loss Washington team over a two-loss Penn State team despite strength of schedule.  Penn State would have been better off scheduling the South Alabama Jaguars or the Tulane Green Wave and just taking the easy win, rather than trying to prove themselves against Pitt.  

This was it.  Penn State got the message.  They were better off trying to survive the Big Ten and beat up on cupcake non-conference teams rather than schedule credible non-conference opponents.  After receiving this message loud and clear, they decided to end the rivalry, and I can’t blame them.  

The goal is to make the playoffs and try to win a National Championship. So if Penn State was going to be unfairly left out because a school like Washington was happy to play the Troy Trojans, then they would fix that.  And so on and so forth, the rivalry was dead.


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