UNIVERSITY PARK - Maybe 30 years have taken some of the fight out of Joe Paterno.
Or maybe Paterno has too much on his plate with his revolving quarterbacks, inept kicking game and looming possibility of a losing season.
Or maybe the ancient history is just a moot point.
Regardless, virtually every time he's been asked about conference alignment during the past three decades, Paterno has taken the opportunity to remind everyone that he tried to start an Eastern all-sports conference in the early-1980s.
He and officials from Pitt, West Virginia, Rutgers and Temple met for more than a year. Syracuse and Boston College were involved as well.
Those of us over 50 remember the rest: The Big East was in its infancy, with Syracuse and Boston College already aligned with the top basketball schools such as Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, UConn and Providence. The league was the brainchild of Providence's Dave Gavitt.
Potential interest in Penn State did not receive enough support by the league in 1982 and, in part to protect itself from the threat of Paterno's vision, the Big East reached out and grabbed Pitt that same year.
There were reports that other schools weren't comfortable with the revenue distribution of JoePa's proposed league, which favored Penn State. It was also unclear if the Big East ever saw itself as an all-sports conference, which Paterno preferred. Or maybe some of the basketball schools feared football, which they know is king financially.
Either way, Paterno took it personally and never forgave the Panthers, and he had enough power - right or wrong and you can make a case for both - to end the annual series with Penn State's oldest rival in 1992. (Pitt was rationed a four-game series from 1997-2000 and two more games are on the schedule in 2016-17, but they're early in the season, not in November, and not the same.)
On Tuesday, two days after it was announced Pitt and Syracuse were leaving the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, Paterno took the high road.
"I do think it's a good move for Syracuse and Pitt," he said without his usual emotion on the subject. "They're old friends and old competitors against us. And a lot of those guys who are associated with those programs, I literally grew up with. So I don't have any compunctions in wishing them well."
Paterno didn't lament on what might have been, but I will.
Sometimes it takes history to fully judge success and failure. And in this case, all the principals lost to some degree.
Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese deeply regrets that the league did not find a way to admit Penn State. Tranghese said in an interview with ESPN.com just recently that after the 1982 vote that came up one short (Penn State needed six votes and received five), as a young staffer, he told Gavitt, "We will rue the day over this decision. And it's been pretty prophetic."
He called it the league's "one major mistake."
So true and so historic.
The Big East landed Pitt and no longer playing PSU annually hurt both schools but especially Pitt. Ditto Syracuse.
Not only did the Big East make a mistake in its initial flubbed flirtation with the Lions, but Penn State remained available for another eight years as an independent through the rest of the '80s before accepting the Big Ten's invitation in 1990.
Syracuse, BC and Pitt could have led an effort to invite Penn State, perhaps creating football and basketball divisions which would have protected everybody, but they either didn't or weren't successful.
By that point, the ACC had also come calling and had the Big Ten not taken Penn State, the ACC would have.
Had the Big East landed Penn State and branched into two divisions, it could have eventually rivaled any conference in the country. Including the Big Ten.
Here's why: Shortly after the Lions went into the Big Ten, Miami entered the Big East. So obviously Miami was open to a move, and with Penn State and Miami, it's very possible Florida State, then an independent, would have followed.
Recall for a second the state of Eastern football in the early-to-mid '80s. PSU played for three national championships. Pitt had Danny Marino. West Virginia had Jeff Hostetler. BC had Doug Flutie. Syracuse was strong. Collectively, the East was a beast.
Combine the TV potential, and that kind of league may have even been appealing to Notre Dame as well because the Fighting Irish played almost all of those schools.
But without a flagship like Penn State to lure and keep Miami and others, the Big East, as history proved, was always in the state of flux. It was overexpanding (South Florida, Louisville, DePaul, Marquette) or constantly vulnerable with schools such as Miami, Virginia Tech and later BC leaving as soon as a prettier girl knocked on their door.
With Pitt and Syracuse now following suit, the Big East and its remaining brethren are the big losers - no matter how the league is salvaged.
Though the ACC will provide the chance to play either Florida State or Miami at home annually, that still may not be enough to sell out Heinz Field on Saturdays. The jury's out on whether Pitt fans will mobilize for Wake Forest, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia, but unquestionably this is an improvement over a Big East home schedule.
Except that the Panthers could well be losing their newest chief rival, West Virginia.
The Mountaineers were rejected by the ACC and the Southeastern Conference and now will either remain in a watered-down Big East or find another conference. Neither is terribly appealing for a school that was a loyal soldier, first as Eastern all-sports conference advocate and then alongside Pitt in the Big East, and deserves a better fate.
Unfortunately, WVU loses bigger than everybody else.
While Syracuse finds a stable football home, its storied basketball program - built with rivalries against the Hoyas, the Johnnies and 'Nova -will be absent those Orange traditions, although North Carolina and Duke on an annual basis are more than a consolation prize.
And what of Penn State?
The Nittany Lions are in the midst of their 19th Big Ten season. The Big Ten remains the nation's most prestigious league and, along with the Big Ten Network, helps allow Penn State to support 31 varsity sports.
At the same time, Penn State has won just one outright title and shared two others. It got so few breaks from the officials that in 2002, Penn State publicly called for a complete investigation of Big Ten officiating practices.
The Lions are clearly not the power brokers they would have been in the Big East. Paterno has been advocating for another Eastern representative for some time now (he prefers Rutgers), and the Big Ten leaders have yawned.
Nor are the Lions as successful as they were in their Eastern football heyday, but Paterno's determination to remain on the job as long as he's upright has contributed to that.
While there's more competitive balance in the Big Ten than there was in the East, Penn State also lost geographic ties; fans who enjoyed car rides to places like Pitt, WVU, Syracuse, Giants Stadium and Maryland far outnumbered those willing to board a plane to Minnesota.
Pitt will find out what Penn State has learned: The loss of true rivals, though not a deal breaker, reduces some passion and, with it, some fun.
As he addressed what had once been a hot-button subject, Joe Paterno, who has lived his entire life in the East, seemed to feel the finality of that loss, too.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.