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June 11, 2013

Notebook: Uniforms, transfers, scholarships and more

In a little more than two weeks, Pitt will officially move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The move will be the culmination of 22 months of anticipation, dating back to August 2011 when the idea was first discussed between Pitt and the ACC.

The move to the new conference will bring many changes to Pitt, and the most notable will be the influx of revenue from the ACC's television deal. That money will be boon to Pitt on a number of levels, but one of the biggest upgrades will come in the Panthers' Olympic sports.

When Pitt enters the ACC, the Panthers will fully-fund all sports except men's soccer. That's a major step for an Athletic Department that has tended to be frugal, particularly in terms of department personnel.

"We've never been one that felt like we were going to be at the top of the spending category; we've always thought, 'We're going to work hard; we're going to do more with less,'" Athletic Director Steve Pederson said Tuesday. "And we've tended to be a little more thinly-staffed, we've tended to be a little more of a lean organization, but I think it's worked to our advantage in that way.

"But the scholarship funding does make a difference in how many players you have on your team and probably the quality of players you have on your team, so I think everybody's going to have a competitive advantage."

While the sports are fully-funded, some teams still need upgraded facilities. The Petersen Sports Complex has given the Pitt baseball, softball and men's and women's soccer teams state-of-the-art facilities, but the successful track team is still looking for an upgraded home, as is the tennis team.

Track is the priority at this point as Pitt looks to improve its facilities, but Pederson said that he was generally pleased with the current state of playing fields, citing the Petersen Events Center, Heinz Field, the football team's South Side facility, and improvements at Trees Pool.

"I feel like, short of solving this track issue, we're in pretty good shape right now."


Tickets

Pederson said that Pitt continues to sell season tickets for the upcoming 2013 football home schedule at a record pace. More than 34,000 of Pitt's season ticket allotment - approximately 45,000 - have been sold, which is ahead of the 2003 season. That year was the only time Pitt sold out its season tickets at Heinz Field.

"We're selling every day," Pederson said. "I want to get this thing sold out."


Departures

One of the biggest storylines this offseason for Pitt's football and men's basketball teams has revolved around transfers. Running back Rushel Shell, linebacker Deaysean Rippy, defensive tackle Terrell Jackson, running back Demitrious Davis, and cornerback Chris Davis all chose to leave the football team; Trey Zeigler transferred from the basketball team this offseason following the midseason departures of Malcolm Gilbert and John Johnson.

But while those stories raised questions about the situations for each teams, a bigger story emerged when Pitt blocked Shell's requests to be released to Arizona and Arizona State. Pederson was at the center of those decisions, and while he didn't discuss specific situations, he did address the approach for handling transfer requests.

As a general policy, Pitt won't release student-athletes to conference opponents or teams on the future schedule.

"That's been kind of our standard practice. Once in a rare while there has been something else out there that has caused us to look at it differently, but that's pretty much the standard here."

Pederson, who came up in the football programs at Nebraska, Ohio State, and Tennessee, also discussed the larger topic of transfers.

"Things get tough. Coaches are demanding and they have high expectations and sometimes they don't always tell you want you want to hear; sometimes they tell you what you need to hear. At some point we have to fight through that a little bit and say, 'I'm going to stick through this and do this the right way.'

"If somebody just isn't fitting in or they feel like they just aren't talented enough to play here and they want to go somewhere else where they feel like they could play, then generally we've been pretty good about that. But there ought to be some rationale for leaving; that's where we've gotten a little bit tighter in terms of departures. This shouldn't be just free agency, (where) when you want to leave you just leave. We've made a commitment to recruit them and educate them and do the right things here. So there are just some times where we feel like we ought to encourage them to stick it out and get through this.

"And in a lot of cases, then it ends up coming back around and they're fine. They go through periods of time where they're frustrated and they come back and they're fine. And I think that's part of life and a little bit of growing up, to have to fight through some of the tougher times."


Chryst in Year Two

For the first time since 2010, the Pitt football team is entering a summer with the same head coach it had the previous year. Paul Chryst went 6-7 in his debut season with the Panthers, and Pederson likes the direction Chryst is taking the program.

"I think Paul has hired a terrific staff and I think that, overall, they're all doing a good job," he said.

"I thought, during spring practice, we elevated everything we were doing. That's probably typical; you go through your first spring and then you go through the fall camp, and then in spring ball it just seems like everything is at a different pace."

He added, "Overall, it just seems like everything in the program is real sound."

Pederson also thinks the players appreciate having a bit of stability after several years of turmoil.

"They've been through it before; what they're doing this summer, they did last summer. I think everything becomes more normal for everybody and they know their routine better."


The script question

One of the biggest ongoing discussions among Pitt fans is the question of uniforms. Pitt has been wearing roughly the same color scheme since Pederson's first tenure, when he changed the Panthers' look from the traditional royal blue and mustard "script Pitt" logo to the current navy blue and gold.

In the opinions of many long-time fans - and more than a few "newer" fans - Pitt should go back to the look that defined the football program during its heyday in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Pederson isn't quite so eager.

"Here's my feeling: we don't need to change the logo all the time," he said. "People get down to where, 'Change the logo, change this, change that.' I think we're all very comfortable with what our colors are, we've got a good look, I think our uniforms have a good look, I think Nike's done a tremendous job for us putting our kids in a good look.

"I know the issue really becomes the script more so than anything. You never say never, and I think we're going to evaluate everything. I know we're looking at everything. So, at this juncture, I wouldn't say we'd never look at anything, but I can't say that we're on the verge of anything either.

"We're just trying to be thoughtful in how we do this, because what we're really trying to focus on is getting our teams better. Getting our teams better, getting our program better, and, really, some of that stuff is fun, which I understand, but it doesn't have a lot to do with how you perform on the field, and that's really what we've tried to put our energy into: how we're going to perform on the field."





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