By SUSAN JONES
While the University grapples with how to conduct classes in the fall, many are wondering about another pressing issue — will there be college football this year?
“The million-dollar question, right? I wish I had the million-dollar answer,” Athletic Director Heather Lyke said during “Panthers at Home,” a Facebook Live event on May 12 that also featured four Pitt coaches and moderator Larry Reichert from KDKA Radio.
She said Pitt athletic officials have been in constant contact with NCAA and ACC officials over the past weeks. “We all understand the importance of all of our sports returning, but football in particular,” Lyke said.
Bringing student athletes back to campus will involve strict processes and protocols and expertise from medical experts to maintain safety, she said.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said last week that he does not believe schools should be playing sports, including football, in the fall if their campuses are not open to students due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately, though, the decision will be up to the conferences and the individual schools.
In an ideal world, Lyke said, the football team would play all 12 of its games and postseason, but in discussions within the ACC, the decision has been made to prioritize conference games if the season is shortened. “We’re really evaluating all options,” she said.
If the season is scheduled to start on time, teams would start practicing six weeks prior to their openers — for Pitt that’s Sept. 5 against Miami University of Ohio. Coach Pat Narduzzi said he and other ACC head coaches have come up with four- and six-week preseason plans that would be very structured.
Narduzzi said he’s worried about how much training and conditioning the players can do from home. “Making sure they're ready for a physical football game” is the priority, he said. It will be tough to do in six weeks, but Narduzzi said they’d do the same type of training as always but in a “smaller package.”
“It’s our number one priority to get our fall teams back and do it in a safe way,” Lyke said. “I am naturally an optimistic person, … I’m not overly confident, but I’m very optimistic.”
Season ticket holders have been told that if any games are canceled, they can apply payments toward the next season, turn their payment into a gift to Pitt Athletics or get a refund.
Lyke said the first year of the ACC Network was very well received, but negotiations continue with Comcast — the largest cable company in the United States with more than 22 million subscribers — to get the network in its lineup. “Comcast is top priority,” she said.
She expects fans will want to come to games after being cooped up all summer, and a task force at Pitt is looking at how to host events safely.
They also hope to honor the researchers and other frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic at a football game this fall.
Also participating in the Facebook Live event were Jeff Capel, men’s basketball coach; Lance White, women’s basketball coach; and Dan Fisher, volleyball coach.
Hall of Fame inductees
During the Facebook “Panthers At Home” event, Pitt Athletics also announced the 13-member Hall of Fame 2020 induction class this week. If all goes as planned, the 2020 class will be inducted on Oct. 16, and be introduced at Heinz Field on Oct. 17 when the Panthers play Notre Dame.
This third class of the Hall of Fame has its first honoree in volleyball, Anne Marie Lucanie, and baseball, Ken Macha, and includes two legendary Pitt football coaches — Jackie Sherrill and Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner.
The honorees, listed in alphabetical order, are:
Jennifer Bruce (women’s basketball): Starring for the Panthers from 1981-85, she remains the second all-time leading scorer in Pitt basketball history — men’s or women’s — with 2,295 points.
Donna DeMarino Sanft (gymnastics athlete and coach): As a Pitt gymnast (1970-74), Sanft was a three-time Most Valuable Performer and three-time captain. She was hired as the first women’s varsity gymnastics coach in Pitt history at the age of 22 and led the program from 1974-86, posting an 86-57-1 record. She served as an administrator for Pitt Athletics from 1986-2014.
Chantee Earl (women’s track and field): Earl finished her Pitt career (1996-2000) as a six-time All-American, earning three indoor citations and three in outdoor competitions. As a senior, she captured the 800-meter title at the 2000 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Craig “Ironhead” Heyward (football; posthumous): Although he played only three active college seasons (1984-87), Heyward is still Pitt’s fifth all-time leading rusher with 3,086 yards. His 1987 season saw him emerge as a national star as he rushed for 1,791 yards to earn consensus All-America honors and finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. In the 1988 NFL Draft, Heyward was selected in the first round by the New Orleans Saints with the 24th overall pick. He went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL. He died in 2006 of cancer. He is the father of Steelers’ defensive end Cam Heyward.
Brandin Knight (men’s basketball): A Pitt point guard from 1999-2003, Knight led Pitt to two consecutive Big East regular-season titles (2001-02 and 2002-03), two NCAA Sweet 16 appearances (2002 and 2003), the program’s first Big East Tournament title (2003) and an 89-40 four-year record. From 2006-16, he served on the Pitt’s men’s basketball staff, including his eight years as an assistant coach.
Ann Marie Lucanie (volleyball): She earned a lengthy list of individual accolades from 1990-93, including All-America honors as a senior from the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Upon the conclusion of her career, she owned the Pitt record for career kills (1,815), a standard that stood for 14 years and ranks second today. Pitt claimed four Big East regular-season championships and four Big East Tournament titles during that span, advancing to the NCAA Tournament each season.
Ken Macha (baseball): Joining Pitt’s baseball team as a freshman walk-on in 1968, Macha went on to become one of the program’s most accomplished players. In 1971, he ranked among the nation’s leaders in batting average, RBI and slugging percentage. He was selected in the sixth round of the 1972 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and played six seasons in the major league, including with the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays before transitioning to coaching.
Curtis Martin (football): Martin rushed for 2,643 career yards from 1991-94 at Pitt despite playing in only two games during his final year due to injury. He was a first-team All-Big East running back in 1993 after rushing for 1,075 yards. A third-round draft selection of New England in 1995, Martin spent three years with the Patriots (1995-97) before joining the New York Jets (1998-2006). At the time of his retirement, he ranked fourth all-time among NFL rushers with an astonishing 14,101 yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Bob Peck (football; posthumous): Peck is the first Panther football player to receive All-American designation. A "roving center," Peck was named a first-team All-American three consecutive seasons (1914-16). During Peck’s junior and senior seasons — played under Glenn "Pop" Warner — the Panthers won all 16 of their games and claimed the 1915 and 1916 national titles. He is enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Pat Santoro (wrestling): Santoro finished his career (1986-89) as a four-time All-American, the only wrestler in Pitt history to accomplish that feat. Competing at 142 pounds, Santoro claimed two consecutive NCAA titles (1988 and 1989). He compiled 20 total NCAA Tournament victories, still a Pitt record. Santoro is the winningest wrestler in Pitt history with a 167-13 record. As a junior, he went an astonishing 48-0 en route to his first NCAA championship.
Jackie Sherrill (football coach): As the Panthers’ head coach from 1977-81, Sherrill cemented Pitt’s stature as a national football powerhouse. A former top assistant to Johnny Majors, Sherrill took the reins of a Pitt program fresh off the 1976 national championship. He would build upon that success by fashioning a 50-9-1 mark from 1977-81, including a 4-1 bowl record and four Top 10 finishes. Sherrill’s .842 winning percentage as Pitt’s head coach is the highest in the football program’s history. Over his final three seasons (1979-81), Pitt went a combined 33-3, finished among the nation’s top 6 each year.
Arnie Sowell (men’s track and field): Described by former Pitt track and field coach Carl Rees as "one of the greatest runners who ever lived," Sowell distinguished himself both at Pitt (1953-57) and on the international stage. He claimed four NCAA titles, the gold medal in the 800 meters at the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City and placed fourth in the 800 meters at the 1956 Olympic Summer Games in Melbourne. Sowell set the world indoor 880-yard run record in 1957 and tied the world’s 1,000-yard run mark in 1955.
Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner (football coach; posthumous): Warner coached at Pitt from 1915-23, and under his command, the Panthers evolved into a national power. Few coaches in the history of college football have influenced their players and peers as significantly as Warner. His Pitt teams were 60-12-4 and were recognized as national champions in 1915, 1916 (unanimously) and 1918 (unanimously). Warner’s teams operated from both the single wing and the double wing, inventions that sprang from his imagination. A national network of football leagues for junior players that still is active — Pop Warner Football — was named for him.
“This is an extraordinary group of athletes who are also extraordinary human beings. In short, they represent the very best of the University of Pittsburgh,” Lyke said in a news release.
Nominations for the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame were solicited from the general public. Candidates had to be five years removed from their final year of collegiate competition and not currently be playing professional sports. A 17-member selection committee then evaluated the candidate pool and provided a recommendation on the class to the director of athletics.
Pitt’s football and men’s cross country programs earned NCAA Public Recognition Awards for exemplary Academic Progress Rates earlier this week.
“It is a privilege to work with so many highly motivated student-athletes striving for academic excellence here at the University of Pittsburgh,” Lyke said. “I remain grateful for our supportive coaches and academic support staff who are dedicated to providing our student-athletes with an exceptional academic experience.”
The awards are presented each year to teams finishing among the top 10 percent of their respective sport based on the most recent multi-year Academic Progress Rates. The Panthers now have 27 teams recognized in the 15 years since the APR has been tracked.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
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