John Steigerwald Column

Mediocrity being celebrated by Pitt, Pirates, Steelers, fans, media

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Pitt football has a long, long way to go.


In case you missed it, Pitt beat Bowling Green, 30-27, on a last-minute field goal Thursday night.


In Detroit.


In the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl.


In front of tens of thousands of empty seats.


The win was being hailed in many quarters as a sign of progress for the Pitt program under second-year head coach Paul Chryst.


The scary thing is that it’s true. And that’s bad news for Pitt football fans.


Bowling Green, Kent State, Akron, Ohio and other Mid-American Conference teams have shown up on Pitt’s schedule over the years and, despite recent pathetic losses to Bowling Green and Ohio, they were signed up as rent-a-victims. In the asinine world of college football, the so-called major programs fatten their records with wins over teams they really have no business playing. Then, at the end of the season, they pretend their final record is legitimate.


The compliant media go along with the joke and tell you, with a straight face, Alabama is 11-1, despite two of those wins being over Chattanooga and Georgia State.


So, Pitt finishes the 2013 season with a “bowl” win and a 7-6 record. Now, beating Bowling Green has gone from being something Pitt had better do to avoid total embarrassment to a sign of progress.


Maybe that says something about Bowling Green, but it says a lot more about how far the Pitt program has to go.


I know. Pitt did it with two freshmen, wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner, both of whom put up historic numbers in the all-important Pizza Bowl.


I know that a redshirt freshman quarterback, Chad Voytik, got a chance to play in the second half and showed great promise for next year. But, if Pitt football is where it’s supposed to be, lots of true and redshirt freshmen would have played in the second half because Pitt would be leading by three or four touchdowns. And it wouldn’t have been at a bowl game in Detroit.


It would have been a nice opening-game slaughter of a rent-a-victim. So, to review, if beating Bowling Green with a last-minute field goal is progress, and it probably is, Pitt football has a long, long way to go to achieve mediocrity.


• It’s amazing how easily fans and too many in the media are taken in by artificially created success. I mentioned the example of the stupidity that makes it smart business for Alabama to play Chattanooga and Georgia State. It’s only smart business because fans are willing to allow themselves to be forced into buying garbage games if they want to buy tickets to the real games.


The cheerleading media have gone along with the smart business angle and cover the garbage games the same way they cover the real games and don’t spend nearly enough energy ridiculing them.


Or ignoring them.


Fans look at a bad team that really only won three or four real games and consider it a 7-6 team.


The Pirates embarrassingly sprayed themselves with champagne when they clinched a wild card spot and a chance to be part of a play-in game. Then they sprayed again when they won the game and advanced to the playoffs. It was a wildly successful season for the Pirates because they won 94 games, but, if not for the addition of an extra wild card last year, there would have been no reason to celebrate.


The Steelers have a decent chance of making the playoffs, depending on what happens to three other teams, but they have no chance of being better than a .500 team for the second year in a row. Mediocrity will be rewarded no matter how the four AFC games turn out.


Try to imagine a time when a total of four teams qualified for the postseason in the NFL and Major League Baseball. That’s combined, by the way.


Sixty-nine teams make the NCAA basketball tournament. Media and fans have bought into the idea that being given the chance to be humiliated as a 15 or 16 seed is a great accomplishment and honor.


Too many teams make the playoffs in the NHL and the NBA, but their seasons are so long and injuries are so common that a team can be a lot better in April than it was in October, and low seeds have a legitimate chance.


Maybe it’s a product of the “Everybody Gets a Trophy” age and making sure nobody’s feelings are hurt, but it’s more a product of team and league marketing departments recognizing how desperately fans want to believe that they’re following a winner.


And their willingness to accept an artificial one.



John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.


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