(Long post) In the mid-90s, the football program had been in disarray for about ten years and Pitt Stadium, home to Pitt football since 1925, was in desperate need of repairs. At the same time, we were also looking to replace our basketball arena, the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse, that was just as old and was too small for our fanbase.
Originally, there was a plan to renovate Pitt Stadium and build a new basketball arena on a vacant parking lot in front of the Cost Center (indoor turf field). However, the Steelers were looking for a new stadium around the same time. Pitt eventually hopped on the Heinz Field/UPMC SouthSide (practice facility) deal with the Steelers, tore down Pitt Stadium to build a new basketball arena, the Petersen Events Center, and the rest was history. There was definitely a lack of donors to fund both a Pitt Stadium renovation and a new basketball arena; moving football off-campus was a cheaper alternative to solving both facility problems. This was due to the lack of success at the time as well as the fact that then-AD Steve Pederson drove off the Golden Panthers, the booster club that funded our success in the 70s and 80s. That tarnished relationship has carried over to today and is why Pitt has one of the lowest donor rates among P5 programs.
With that being said, Pitt likely doesn’t join the ACC if we don’t move to Heinz Field. Our facilities were among the worst in the country for a power conference program and not having to renovate Pitt Stadium freed up funds to both build a new arena and build facilities for baseball, soccer, and softball. At the same time, it likely guaranteed that football would never return on-campus because Oakland, the neighborhood that houses the university, is land-locked with more and more properties being acquired by tech companies and housing developers. There simply is not enough room to build a new stadium on-campus, and buying up lots would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. In my opinion, the only way Pitt football likely ever returns to campus is if the Pittsburgh VA Hospital, which resides next to the athletics neighborhood on campus, moves out and builds a new hospital elsewhere in the city