Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes was the host of a town hall meeting Tuesday night at Alumni Hall in Oakland.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Even with the script logo back, new football uniforms debuting this spring and West Virginia back on future schedules, Pitt fans still had plenty of questions for Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes.
Barnes answered well over a dozen Tuesday night at Pitt’s Athletics “Town Hall,” held at Alumni Hall in Oakland before the Panthers men’s basketball game against North Carolina State at Petersen Events Center.
The idea came from Barnes, who said he did something similar in his previous position at Utah State. He spent the first 45 minutes giving a presentation on the state of Pitt’s athletic department, and held the second half for questions from the 450 fans in attendance.
Barnes’ presentation mostly focused on his assessment of the athletic department in his first six months on the job, addressing where the university compared in several key areas to other ACC programs.
He admitted that Pitt was still below average in the conference when it comes to coaching salaries across all sports. He said Pitt has made strides in that regard — specifically in football, softball, men’s soccer and women’s basketball — but he still wants to close the gap even more.
Barnes also outlined Pitt’s immediate facilities plan, which he previously had announced in a media session a month ago. The school is embarking on a $4 million project to upgrade the swimming and diving team room, and has more plans for the immediate future, including video boards at the softball and baseball stadiums, a new LED ribbon board around the upper deck of Petersen Events Center and various renovations at the South Side football facility.
Overall, he expected those projects to cost between $8 million-$10 million, which will be funded largely through major donations.
“We haven’t really had a culture of major gift fundraising,” Barnes said. “We’ve just sort of haven’t. It creates a sense of urgency. Here’s your goal, go get it done. All of us are working on multiple gifts for all these projects.”
As for the question-and-answer session, one of the most common themes was a dissatisfaction with the stadium atmosphere at Heinz Field for football. There were suggestions that Pitt could do more to brand the stadium and make it feel like its own.
Barnes said Pitt is actively working with the Steelers to try and find improvements, but declined to give specifics. When asked if the Steelers could accommodate a larger midfield logo for Pitt, Barnes said, “We’re going to find out.”
“I think there’s some things we can do,” he said. “Not only on the field, but the Great Hall, other areas. We want to move that direction.”
Barnes also said Pitt is “seriously” considering expanding alcohol sales to the general seating areas at Heinz Field, noting that trend seemingly growing across the country.
And, of course, there were some questions about the future scheduling in football and basketball.
For basketball, Barnes said he already has had discussions with coach Jamie Dixon about increasing the brand names on Pitt’s non-conference schedule, and adding regional rivals West Virginia and Penn State to the mix.
“Let’s play the West Virginias and the Penn States in everything, basketball specifically,” Barnes said.
Both schools already are on future football schedules, but Barnes said he’s constantly working on trying to find the right formula there, as well. He reaffirmed earlier comments that the Panthers will no longer play road games against non-Power Five conference schools, and said eliminating Football Championship Subdivision opponents could be on the long-term horizon as well.
“I think that ultimately that may be where the whole thing goes,” he said. “I think it’s trending that way. We’re certainly talking about it.”
Overall, Barnes said he wasn’t surprised by any of the questions, but rather they reaffirmed ideas he had already picked up on through his interaction with the fan base.
Still, he said the plan was to make this an annual event.
“It’s part of what we talked about from day one, transparency and trying to open lines of communication,” he said.
“I don’t know if there was anything that was shockingly new, but maybe reminders or different ways to look at it.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
Correction: Pitt is embarking on a $4 million project to upgrade its swimming facility. An earlier version of this article misstated the progress of that project.
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