Dunlap: Heather Lyke Needs To Make Tarp Decision

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This is the easiest decision University of Pittsburgh athletics director Heather Lyke will ever make — even if some of the old guard will try to make it a hard one. She can’t (and shouldn’t) listen to any resistance as leaders get paid to lead and make decisions for the betterment of the greater good. This would be, make no mistake, for the greater good.

Again, this is easy. This is simple. This is a no-brainer.

And she needs to make it unilaterally if need be; of her own accord and, well, just do it. Simply put, she just needs to make it happen — and sooner rather than later. For the start of next season would be ideal.

The first step in trying to solve the swath of empty yellow seats at Heinz Field for Pitt home games is to mask some of them.

Get the tarps out. Cover them. Canvas some of them over with those fancy, tightly-fitting sheets in the upper deck and give the appearance that the place is actually smaller than it is.

It isn’t that hard, really. Such a decision would be the first major decision for Lyke in her time as Pitt’s athletics director as she hasn’t had to hire or fire a major coach or extend the contract of one yet.

The long-term solution to greater attendance, everyone knows, is consistently winning on the field. But as it stands right now, Pitt has a tremendous problem with optics, as seemingly every time those cameras pan out during telecasts, there are those rows of empty seats and subsequent social media posts mocking the lack of turnout. Of this issue, Lyke recently told the Canton (Ohio) Repository newspaper:

“[Heinz Field is] 68,000 seats right now, which is in the top quartile of the Power Five schools and there’s really only 10-20 schools in the country that really draw consistently over 80,000. … There’s a way to make the stadium seem smaller, but the amenities at Heinz Field are phenomenal. We’re going to make the best of it.”

OK, don’t just talk about it. Do it. Order the tarps and have them ready to go for the Sept. 1 opener against Albany. Knock the artificial capacity down to about 40,000 or 42,000 from 68,000.

I’d like someone to point out what would be the glaring negative in all of this. Because, from where I sit, ridicule isn’t one of them as Pitt has already been made to withstand just about every attendance joke that exists.

Don’t tell me about how this will hurt recruiting, either. From my vantage, this could help from a recruiting and visibility standpoint as the key numeric would be percentage full against capacity as opposed to total attendance. Or, to put it another way, a crowd of 38,000 looks a hell of a lot better in a stadium of 40,000 where there are only a few thousand empty seats than that same crowd in a huge place that holds 68,000. Kids you are trying to get to come play for you notice that, believe me.

Heather Lyke has a decision to make. A big one but an easy one as far as I’m concerned. Order the tarps, right-size that stadium and forget about any of the detractors or naysayers. Pitt isn’t getting a new stadium and Heinz Field is too cavernous for them to fill on a regular basis. That said, it is perfectly OK to understand and accept who you are if you are Pitt — you are a program that should be playing in a place that seats about 40,000.

They can’t build that place.

But they can retrofit Heinz Field to be that place for their games. It needs to happen ASAP.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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