College Football’s Biggest Dilemma: Conference Alignment

Since the College Football Playoff (CFP) system began in the 2014 season, there has been a lot of speculation as to the fairness of the four-team playoff.  The bowl season has always been one of the biggest highlights for America’s biggest sport and the CFP has been no exception to that since its beginning.

The ten conferences in college football’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) are not all created equal and this is certainly noted by what teams make the CFP. The Power Five conferences of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Big Twelve (Big XII), Pac-12, and Southeastern Conference (SEC) cannot all possibly be represented with the four-team playoff system. In some cases, only three are represented when an independent team like Notre Dame (2018) or two teams from one conference like Alabama and Georgia (2017) take a spot away from a conference that otherwise would not play against worthy opponents.

The arguments surrounding college football have pivoted the spotlight to increasing the playoff to eight teams. However, the bigger problem comes from the conferences and scheduling of teams being geographically and unequally imbalanced.

Before a push for an eight-team playoff can occur, a new system that its proponents say would be more fair for allowing new conferences to join the race for a national title, there needs to be a push for conference realignment. To achieve equal balance in college football, geography and rivalries need to be preserved.

Fairness, above all else, has to be at the forefront.

Here is an updated picture of a more fair way for the ten FBS college football conferences to be aligned, with explanation behind the shifting of different teams to different conferences.

Conference Re-Alignment for the Power Six

One of the main reasons for the move from a Power Five system to a Power Six system is due to the number of teams that deserve to be considered a Power Five school in football. Currently, there are 64 Power Five schools. By rearranging the conferences so that there are six conferences with 12 teams each, that would only move eight teams to Power Five status.

Teams like Brigham Young (BYU), Central Florida (UCF), Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, Notre Dame, Temple, and UConn are schools with a rich enough history in football and athletic status in other sports that they deserve the position to succeed in the new Power Six.

American Athletic Conference (The American)

East

  1. Boston College (from ACC)
  2. Connecticut (UConn)
  3. Maryland (from Big Ten)
  4. Rutgers (from Big Ten)
  5. Syracuse (from ACC)
  6. Temple

West

  1. Cincinnati
  2. Louisville (from ACC)
  3. Memphis
  4. Notre Dame (from FBS Independents)
  5. Pittsburgh (Pitt) (from ACC)
  6. West Virginia (from Big XII)

The first step in the process of creating equality in college football is moving Notre Dame to an actual conference. By adding teams like Maryland and Rutgers out of the Big Ten along with some other ACC teams and West Virginia, the conference that claims to be a “Power Six” can develop into a stronghold among mid-majors and the northeastern United States. West Virginia’s move to The American is based upon their rivalry with Pitt and an escape from the extremely long travel that exists for them as a member of the Big XII, a conference dominated by central American teams. In an eight-team playoff scenario, they would also be an automatic bid.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)

North

  1. Duke
  2. North Carolina (UNC)
  3. North Carolina State
  4. Virginia
  5. Virginia Tech
  6. Wake Forrest

South

  1. Central Florida (UCF) (from The American)
  2. Clemson
  3. Florida State
  4. Georgia Tech
  5. Miami (FL)
  6. South Carolina (from SEC)

For the most part, the ACC stays pretty consistent aside from the loss of teams to the AAC. The new ACC is split between North and South, rather than Coastal and Atlantic. With the removal of teams like Boston College, Louisville, Pitt, and Syracuse, the conference is able to become more coastal and more southern geographically. UCF is also a strong fit based on their school enrollment, increasing popularity, and location. The addition of South Carolina is based off their rivalry with Clemson along with the fact that they are not historically bounded to the SEC.

Big Ten Conference (B1G)

East

  1. Indiana
  2. Michigan
  3. Michigan State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Penn State
  6. Purdue

West

  1. Illinois
  2. Iowa
  3. Iowa State (from Big XII)
  4. Minnesota
  5. Northwestern
  6. Wisconsin

Like the ACC, the Big Ten stays intact for the most part. Although the East Division pulls four of college football’s historic programs, the rivals and geographic locations allow for them to stay in the same division they are already in now. The big change is in the West Division with the addition of Iowa State. Iowa State is not historically bounded to the Big XII, has a rivalry with Iowa, and can compete on a recruiting and on-the-field standpoint.

Big Twelve Conference (Big XII)

North

  1. Colorado (from Pac-12)
  2. Kansas
  3. Kansas State
  4. Nebraska (from Big Ten)
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Oklahoma State

South

  1. Baylor
  2. Houston (from The American)
  3. Texas
  4. Texas A&M (from SEC)
  5. Texas Christian (TCU)
  6. Texas Tech

Moving Colorado into the conference was actually a tough decision, but one that saw the potential for a renewed rivalry with Nebraska coming from the Big Ten. Houston was an easy move from The American as was Texas A&M back from the SEC, creating an all-Texas South Division.

Pac-12

North

  1. California (Cal)
  2. Oregon
  3. Oregon State
  4. Stanford
  5. Washington
  6. Washington State

South

  1. Arizona
  2. Arizona State
  3. Brigham Young (BYU) (from FBS Independents)
  4. Central Los Angeles (UCLA)
  5. Southern California (USC)
  6. Utah

The Pac-12 remains mostly unchanged aside from the addition of BYU. Although BYU is not a major powerhouse, their Holy War rivalry with Utah and historical relevance played a part in them being the equalizer in the new conference alignment.

Southeastern Conference (SEC)

East

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. Florida
  4. Georgia
  5. Tennessee
  6. Vanderbilt

West

  1. Arkansas
  2. Kentucky
  3. Louisiana State (LSU)
  4. Mississippi (Ole Miss)
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Missouri

The SEC is the only conference that does not add teams from other conferences. Geographically, everyone is a perfect fit and the realignment of divisions comes from the exit of South Carolina and Texas A&M.

Scheduling for the Power Six

The Power Six conferences have 12 teams each, which creates a set of 3 rivalries in each division of every conference. As far as scheduling goes, a more balanced system needs to be created so that every conference is not only playing a balanced divisional and cross-divisional schedule, but also a fair out-of-conference schedule.

The conference scheduling for the Power Six conferences, as a suggestion, would go as follows:

  • Every team plays their five divisional opponents every year.
  • Every team plays half (three) cross-divisional opponents every year, rotating on a year-to-year basis. For example, Ohio State would play at home against Wisconsin one season, play a different cross-divisional game the following year (say, Minnesota at home), and play at Wisconsin the year after.

This is where things get competitive. Every year, out-of-conference scheduling would be determined by how a team does the year prior. The top two teams from a Power Six conference would play the 3rd and 4th best teams from another conference. The conference that each conference plays every year would be on a constant rotation.

For example, if Oklahoma and Texas play in the Big XII Championship game like they did in 2018, they would play the 3rd and 4th best teams from another conference the following year (say, the Big Ten). One game would be at home, one game would be away. The 4th best team from the Big Ten would play at home against the Big XII champ and on the road against the Big XII runner-up and the 3rd place team from the Big Ten would play at home against the Big XII runner-up and on the road against the Big XII champ.

If Ohio State and Northwestern play in the Big Ten Championship game like they did in 2018, they would play a different conference’s 3rd and 4th best teams.

This system would continue down the line with the 5th and 6th place teams of conferences playing the 7th and 8th and the 9th and 10th playing against the 11th and 12th.

With two games left on the 12-game schedule, this leaves room for two mid-major opponents. The top Power Six team from the final CFP rankings would be granted the privilege of playing the lowest ranked team from the new “Group of Four” conferences. There would also be room in the schedule for all 72 Power Six teams to play a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent.

The reasoning behind keeping FCS opponents in the schedule is because these games are a major funding boost for smaller Division I opponents. These are the types of games that allow for a FCS opponent to grow their program.

Conference Re-Alignment for the Group of Four

Outside of the new Power Six conferences, the alignment of the remaining four groupings gets interesting. As the Power Six conferences each have 12 teams each, the Group of Four each have 16. These 16-team conferences will ensure that every conference champion from a mid-major conference will be deserving of a bigger bowl game and, if there were to be an expansion, possible a spot in the CFP.

Conference USA (C-USA)

North

  1. Appalachian State (from Sun Belt)
  2. Army (from FBS Independents)
  3. Eastern California (from The American)
  4. James Madison (from FCS)
  5. Liberty (from FBS Independents)
  6. Massachusetts (UMass) (from FBS Independents)
  7. Navy (from The American)
  8. Old Dominion

South

  1. UNC Charlotte
  2. Coastal Carolina (from Sun Belt)
  3. Florida Atlantic
  4. Florida International
  5. Georgia Southern (from Sun Belt)
  6. Georgia State (from Sun Belt)
  7. Middle Tennessee
  8. South Florida (USF) (from The American)

The new Conference USA would consist of teams that were formerly in the Sun Belt, but rearranged so that geography and competitiveness can play a factor. Rivalries such as Liberty and James Madison and Army and Navy in the North Division will highlight the conference as a whole. The addition of South Florida in the South is also a big step forward.

Mid-American Conference (MAC)

East

  1. Akron
  2. Bowling Green
  3. Buffalo
  4. Kent State
  5. Marshall (from C-USA)
  6. Ohio
  7. Toledo
  8. Youngstown State (from FCS)

West

  1. Ball State
  2. Central Michigan
  3. Eastern Kentucky (from FCS)
  4. Eastern Michigan
  5. Miami (OH)
  6. Northern Illinois
  7. Western Kentucky (from C-USA)
  8. Western Michigan

The MAC is a staple of Big Ten country mid-major football. The addition of Youngstown State, a traditional FCS powerhouse, and Eastern Kentucky would be beneficial for the conference. Western Kentucky coming over from C-USA would also be a good geographical fit.

Mountain West Conference

Northeast

  1. Air Force
  2. Boise State
  3. Colorado State
  4. Eastern Washington (from FCS)
  5. Idaho (from FCS)
  6. Montana (from FCS)
  7. Utah State
  8. Wyoming

Southwest

  1. Fresno State
  2. Hawai’i
  3. Nevada
  4. Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV)
  5. New Mexico
  6. New Mexico State (from FBS Independents)
  7. San Diego State
  8. San Jose State

The Mountain West would be split into Northeast and Southwest Divisions based upon the location of the schools. The addition of higher-level FCS teams will expand the conference and the rivalry of New Mexico and New Mexico State would be reignited, as it should.

Sun Belt Conference

East

  1. Alabama Birmingham (UAB) (from C-USA)
  2. Louisiana Lafayette
  3. Louisiana Monroe
  4. Louisiana Tech (from C-USA)
  5. South Alabama
  6. Southern Mississippi (from C-USA)
  7. Troy
  8. Tulane (from The American)

West

  1. Arkansas State
  2. North Texas (from C-USA)
  3. Rice (from C-USA)
  4. Southern Methodist (SMU) (from The American)
  5. Texas El Paso (UTEP) (from C-USA)
  6. Texas San Antonio (UTSA) (from C-USA)
  7. Texas State
  8. Tulsa (from The American)

Many of the teams that would form the new Sun Belt would be coming from C-USA and vise versa, along with SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa from The American. The East Division consists of many schools in Alabama and Louisiana while the West Division will be mostly mid-major schools in Texas.

Scheduling for the Group of Four

The Group of Four conferences have 16 teams each, which creates a set of 4 rivalries in each division of every conference. Scheduling for the Group of Four would be balanced throughout, with the majority of the games being played to be divisional.

The conference scheduling for the Group of Four conferences, as a suggestion, would go as follows:

  • Every team plays their seven divisional opponents every year.
  • Every team plays three cross-divisional opponents every year.

Every year, out-of-conference scheduling would again be determined by how a team does the year prior. The top team from a Group of Four conference would play the best team from another Group of Four conference. The conference that each conference plays every year would be on a constant rotation, just like the Power Six.

For example, if Tulsa wins the Sun Belt Championship game, they would play the Mountain West Conference champ the following season.

This system would continue down the line, where teams that finished in the same position from different Group of Four conferences would play the following season.

With one game left on the 12-game schedule, this leaves room for the single Power Six opponent. The top Group of Four team from the final CFP rankings would be granted the privilege of playing the lowest ranked team from the new Power Six conferences.

This new system would allow for the conference champ from a Group of Four school to prove that they are above the other schools they play.

The growing need to expand upon a CFP system cannot be done without an equal balance within the college football conferences themselves. If there is to be an expansion from four to eight teams making the playoff, there needs to be an even playing field for all teams. With that comes the importance of set scheduling that can prove how other conferences compare to others. A more balanced playing field to ensure a more even playoff at the conclusion of the season can be achieved if scheduling and geographical considerations are taken into account.

 

 

 

 

 

Connection of a Lifetime

For International people, the acclamation to a new home can be a lonely road

A 7-year-old boy sent a letter written in pencil to Alan Hausman, Vice President of the Tree of Life Synagogue, after the October 27, 2018 shooting.

“The letter said, ‘when I’m sad my mom gets me a Beyblade. I know it won’t make you happy, but I hope it will make you less sad,” said Hausman at the Love Thy Neighbor event in downtown Pittsburgh in February.

Hausman’s message was a resounding echo of acceptance, the same messages offered to others present, like Hello Neighbor and Pittsburgh Region International Student Ministries (PRISM); these places are where international students, immigrants, and refugees could gain access to resources and get accustomed to living in America.

“You can make a difference” – Hausman

Fayezeh Haji Hassan, a Board Member for Hello Neighbor, was also a speaker at the event. Hello Neighbor is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to supporting recently resettled refugee families.

“It’s an organization that helps connect refugees and immigrants to American families here in Pittsburgh,” she said.

hello
Hello Neighbor started in January of 2017. Source: HelloNeighbor.io

The nonprofit, which began in 2017, has been an advocate for the trials of immigrants in America. After President Trump’s Executive Order 13769, otherwise known as the “Trump travel ban”, which closed off a lot of international travel to Middle Eastern countries. The organization saw an opening to connect immigrants to American families due to the inaccessibility of returning to their home countries.

Hassan, who started a girl’s school in an Afghanistan neighborhood after immigrating from Iran, had to move to Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of 2003 and eventually moved to Pittsburgh for law school. She moved to the United States because it was a safe option from her home overseas. For her, the U.S. and Pittsburgh was an eye-opening experience for what life for immigrants is really like.

She explained that Hello Neighbor is important for Pittsburgh because of the connections that could be made, especially for people coming from war-torn areas of the world.

“Don’t think or don’t assume anything about immigrants,” she added.

PRISM is another organization that is trying to showcase that for immigrants.

“At some points I felt so isolated and lonely because I don’t speak English as well as the native people,” said Rongkun Xu, a University of Pittsburgh student from China.

PRISM is an organization that centers around connecting foreign students at local universities to American culture. They are located around Carnegie Mellon and Pitt in Oakland, where they hold events for students from the universities that help them learn English and American culture.

“It’s a welcoming,” said key PRISM volunteer Ken Wagoner, “an opportunity to meet people from other countries and introduce them to other Americans and other internationals as well. It’s a place for them to practice their English speaking skills and listening skills.”

Some of the skills they learn include speech tense, community dialogue, and the practice of religious differences.

hello2
Ken Wagoner explains the plot behind the movie Green Book before the annual PRISM Connect night. Photo by Bryan Partika.

Wagoner mainly works with students from China because that is where the majority of the students come from, but says that the organization does things specifically for different ethnic groups. However, their main focus is getting students connected to learning English and getting acclimated to the U.S.

“We take groups to Washington, D.C. and Niagara Falls and we stay with American families when we do that.  We do a lot of local one day events throughout the year, just to kind of get them out of the city and see a different part of the U.S. that they may never see,” said Wagoner. For many international students, going to the capital of a country to learn more about the culture was just a dream before PRISM.

The organization was founded by a Baptist pastor in Washington, PA in the late 1960s. Being that there are Christian roots, PRISM offers Bible study to its members.

“If they are interested, we are more than willing to sit down and talk with them and if they want to read the Bible and discuss it, we are happy to do that one-on-one or in a group,” said Wagoner.

People like Xu were not accustomed to Christianity coming from China.  He was an atheist that became so interested to learn about Christianity that he decided to Google places that offered Bible study, where he eventually found PRISM. Xu’s interest came from his previous agnostic views towards Christianity and God, but he wanted to learn more.

“I think I made a couple friends here and expanded my view. (PRISM) also helps me spiritually by teaching me the Bible,” Xu said.

Arisa Koide, a Duquesne University student from Tokyo, says it was hard for her to get adjusted to living in Pittsburgh before finding PRISM. The main struggle for her and a lot of students in the organization was meeting people coming from similar situations of wanting to gain a higher education in a different setting.

“The first thing that surprised me was that people don’t use trains; people use cars,” she said, “People are much more open here.”

Scott Boyd, the Executive Director of PRISM, has been leading the organization for 17 years. He says he is only the third director in the organization’s half-century history.

hello3
Scott Boyd has been the Director of PRISM for 17 years. Photo by Bryan Partika.

“We were Christian workers in Slovenia for ten years prior to coming back to lead PRISM,” Boyd said of he and his team.

Over the years, the organization added English classes, weekend trips, and celebrations of various ethnic holidays.

Boyd says that they try and give students a positive experience of living in Pittsburgh, but continuing to connect them to their roots.

“Most of our staff have lived in foreign countries, so we know what it feels like to be isolated in a new culture and feel somewhat lonely,” said Boyd.

A lot of the current staff are volunteers from around the are who come and help teach English or chaperone weekend trips, like the one to Washington, D.C.

Rong Wang, a University of Pittsburgh foreign exchange student from China, enjoys the comradery she gets from attending the weekly events at PRISM. She heard about it from one of her friends when she first moved for college and decided to attend to make more friends.

“I make a lot of friends from different countries and they have different backgrounds and different characteristics,” Wang added, referring to the array of students from Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

The blending of different characteristics is one of the reasons that PRISM has been successful. For foreign students coming to the country, it can be a huge sacrifice.

Boyd says he knows a lot of situations in which the foreign exchange students are making huge sacrifices, leaving their current lives behind in Asia.

“I know a girl from Pakistan who had been married for ten days before she came here.  So she had been married ten days and was now going to be away from her husband for almost two years,” said Boyd.

“They make huge sacrifices to pursue higher education. It can be a really lonely time for them” – Boyd

Wang adds that the time change is also a challenge for her adjustment to the U.S.

“Sometimes I call my mother and she had just gone to sleep, so that is a big problem,” Wang said laughing about the 12-hour difference.

Boyd says that most students who come to the U.S. are graduate-level or higher in their pursuit of education, which means that student housing is not always an option. One of the biggest initiatives that PRISM tackles is housing security due to how difficult it is for even American students to find housing in the city.

“They have to set up a lot of apartments in Pittsburgh and a lot of these apartments are empty when they move in so we give away furniture and household items,” said Boyd.

This past year, Boyd’s team helped around 500 international students, most of them from Asian countries, obtain items for off-campus living in Oakland. They also have access to rent two student houses, one men’s and one women’s.

“It’s more of a home atmosphere,” said Wagoner, “Anywhere between five and seven people live there.”

Wagoner asks that they have a meal together at least once a week. These meals are prepared in the student houses and are usually cuisines that are from one of the resident’s home countries.

“The Bible talks about three vulnerable people: orphans, widows, and the alien, or foreigner” – Boyd

Boyd is also a pastor.

He says that people in the area have been so generous with their giving – from furniture to kitchen supplies to food. He says that students are blown away by the kindness of Pittsburgh people.

The connection between bringing international students to a place they can call home, teaching them English, and getting them accustomed to a new city’s culture is one that the people working at PRISM enjoy, which is why they continue to come back.

“It is really special when you go to another country and make friends with a national from that other country,” said Boyd.

One of the biggest issues the employees at PRISM face is teaching students English. Wagoner says that the majority of students coming to the U.S. speak English as a second language to Chinese or Hiragana, one of the main three Japanese languages.

“We don’t do a lot of work where we are speaking to a large number of people because the listening comprehension is the most difficult one,” said Wagoner.

Because of this, Wagoner likes to teach English in small groups rather than all at once.  Boyd adds that most of the students come from China, with India being second. South Korea, Japan, and other Asian countries make up the majority of the represented nationalities.

Wagoner said the language barrier between the foreign students and the languages used in the classrooms at Pitt and CMU are a difficult transition.

“You can’t reach 100 people by addressing 100 people in the room together” – Wagoner

One of the most exciting things Boyd enjoys from being involved with PRISM is the stories he hears from his students after they go back to their home countries. He says that when they do positive things for their own people, it adds to the positive impact that this type of organization can have on the world.

“We met a guy here who was a psychiatrist and he and his wife went back to Brazil where they went to help their church start a ministry for street children,” said Boyd.

The part of Brazil is extremely poor, adds Boyd. When the students involved in PRISM returned to their home, they stayed connected to the organization and even used the knowledge they learned in Pittsburgh to begin a similar organization.

Whether it be hearing about former students starting a Sunday school program in Bangkok or helping his current students enjoy their learning experience in America, it is clear that Boyd and Wagoner enjoy what they do.

Their students feel the same way.

Xu, who felt stressed coming to Pittsburgh for school from Shanghai, admits he felt isolated and lonely when he first arrived. His shyness and lack of knowledge on American culture played a role in his isolated feeling.

“After I joined PRISM, I made a couple friends and things got better” – Xu

Wagoner and Boyd add that they are always looking for continued support from community members, whether it be hosting foreign students or being involved in developing a cross-cultural relationship at their annual Connect Events.

“We are always looking for volunteers, people from the area, local churches,” said Wagoner.

“Those relationships are a blessing for both,” said Boyd of the bond between Americans and foreign students in the program.

Gisele Fetterman, wife of Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and former Braddock mayor John Fetterman, says that local organizations are opportunities to have open conversations with different people.

Fetterman was one of the people behind the start of the Braddock Free Store, a food pantry and distributor of free material goods.

“We wanted to be 100% volunteer-ran and create something magical and fun,” she said.

Braddock is a town that is not known for its immigrants and has lost 90% of its total population since its peak in the 1920s. Fetterman, who came to U.S. as an undocumented Brazilian immigrant when she was only 7, says that the area has a lot of people who are not used to immigrants.

Fetterman said she was recently talking to a veteran who couldn’t find work in the area.  She explained how he didn’t like immigrants coming to the U.S.

“I might have been the only immigrant he’s ever met,” she said regarding the conversations that need to be had.

Like everyone else, she said,

“We are just someone who wants to be loved” – Fetterman

Organizations like PRISM and Hello Neighbor are examples of how a city can connect when not everyone feels welcomed, or in an unfortunate sense, after an act of terror like the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Hausman says that the Tree of Life Congregation received hundreds of messages after the shooting in October. The messages came from many different religious and ethnic groups, local mosques, Catholic churches, and people who otherwise would never know of the connection that can be formed from people who simply live in the same city.

“Over 14,000 pieces of mail and art were sent to us,” Hausman said, “I’m here to tell you they make a big difference.”

“I know what Pittsburgh’s all about” – Hausman

Bore Me Into Love

Please –
Don’t hesitate
To put me in a chokehold
And make me lose my mind

From one time to another
Your intention was to harm
But now you’re left, cold
A faithful place to start

I beg of you to go
Place your words on your lips
And leave them there I swear
To avoid sweet, sweet bliss

I want you to stop talking
About your wishes and your dreams
Just bore me into love
Leave things how they seem

My patience has run out
To care about these thoughts
T
hese feelings left so numb
A lonely and secluded embark

But please push me to the side
Knock me down and leave
I’d rather meet the road
Of endless, relentless defeat

I’m pressing you to close
All of your open doors
Blood running to and from
The deep, depth-defying eyes

So for the last time
Before I say it again
Bore me into love
And allow my heart to rest

Missing [3]

/ Now /
One should know
They are on their own
In this world

You walk the city streets
Others walk by, too
A new avenue approaches
Nobody follows

Shadows of the forgotten
Arise around the buildings
But the shadows don’t follow
They stray by their own

Cars pass
But not tonight
Darkness skews the shining moon
Of all things passing by

Those inside remain
In small rooms and
Empty screens
Yet you march on

The ghosts of years ago
Drain your breath
Into violent coughs
And heavy inhales

The shadows
That did not follow
Now return
Around other boulevards

They meet you
On cracked sidewalks
When you don’t expect
Any pain

Now buildings tumble
Sharp rocks fall
On cracked sidewalks
Opening an abyss

/ Then /
Shadows flail
In windy paths
And
You were missing

Missing [2]

Looking out on a long day
The reminders of those left behind
Or rather
Those who moved on

Few have stayed in sync
Others left over time
Straying from the regular
Old stagnant still Stop

The ones who stayed
Were not the corrupt
It was the ones who left
Who thought their independence
Would follow

Instead it stuck behind
Straying from the same
Old stagnant still Stop
Awaiting to be picked up
By another

The body left the way
Nobody followed
Nothing traveled along
Except stationary objects
That would dissolve into ashes

No friends walked with
They were alone
Their followers revert from a new line
You were nothing

Missing [1]

It’s OK to miss a friend
The one who is gone
Locked away in the wind

It’s alright to feel that pain
You forgot it once before
Now is the time to do it again

That stressed love that never mattered
The pressure to pursue an empty heart
Instead of waiting to see how your story ends

Patience is a virtue
But the true virtue is desire
To want the world to revolve in slow motion

Our plans don’t wait for us
But people
How ignorant
As long as tides turn
They cease

But some remain on shore
Refusing to go adrift
Repeating softly to themselves
Try me.

The Case for Religion in Collegiate America

Any weekend morning, afternoon, or evening in Pittsburgh, there are small groups of college students that gather to worship their respective faiths. Each one of these centers of faith worship differently, but all of them are accompanying the small number of young adults that still practice their religion.

These worship centers want to change that culture.

A small building sits near the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill where one can find a community of young people giving back to their community during a youth service to educate and promote the Islamic religion.

The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh (ICP) and other worship centers like it have not just been places for members of certain religions, but home to the closing gap of religion among young adults.

In an era where attendance to organized religious gatherings is shrinking, more young adults are continuing to find a way to practice religion, whether it is by attending services from their childhood religions, seeking spirituality in a different kind of practice to express their faith, or to find religion for the first time.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, people have slowly stopped attending religious services because they haven’t found a church they enjoy going to or they don’t like the sermons. The study also found that the most common answer for not attending religious services is “I practice my faith in other ways.”

Koshin Yusuf, one of the young adults involved in the youth program at the ICP, is trying to change that.

“One of the programs that we have that is consistent is our Sunday school,” said Koshin Yusuf, one of the young adults involved at the Islamic Center. “We also have the youth leadership program that happens on Saturdays.”

The youth group at the ICP seeks to not only help young adults get more involved, but also to educate outsiders on the religion of Islam through events and tours of the center.

“We held an event called the Stop Bullying event, which was basically an event where a youth coordinator from another organization stopped by to talk to kids about how they could counter bullying in school,” Yusuf said regarding one of their most attended youth events.

“Sometimes we have groups coming in from school who are currently studying something on Islam and they want to come in and actually talk to people who come to a mosque,” said Yusuf.

For him, this place means more than just showcasing the Islamic religion to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in a Christian city.

“It’s first and foremost a place of prayer, but it’s also a community center. It’s a safe space for (people) to come and have a conversation and get together with friends.”

According to the United Jewish Federation, around 40% of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood is Jewish. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has been one of the city’s most involved religious sects, with programs for adults and families.

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A map of Jewish Centers around Downtown Pittsburgh in relation to the ICP.

Pittsburgh native Miracle Brocco, a student at Millersville University, says that the Jewish faith isn’t as prominent in reaching out to college students.

“A lot of that is because it’s an inclusive and close-knit community,” she says.

The community was brought together in the past couple months after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue that left 11 dead and seven injured. After the shooting, worship centers and churches of all faiths came together to support the local synagogue.

The community was brought together in the past couple months after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue that left 11 dead and seven injured. After the shooting, worship centers and churches of all faiths came together to support the local synagogue.

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People gather on a rainy day at Point State Park to honor the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting that took place on October 27.

However, the showcasing of the Jewish faith on college campuses around the country is not as popular as Christian faiths.

“At college we have a campus Hillel (a group of practicing and non-practicing Jewish people), but the only thing it’s ever offered is a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony.”

Brocco says that when she returns home, she celebrates on her own, within her family, or even over FaceTime.

“My Jewish friends and I celebrate holidays together and my goyim (non-Jewish) friends are always super supportive,” she says.

In the Strip District of Pittsburgh, a small building was converted into a Christian Church – one of the largest college congregations in the city.

Amplify Church is usually filled with young people on a Sunday evening. It is there where a rock band can be heard playing worship music and young people can openly express themselves.

Joshua Clear, one of the youth pastors at Amplify Church, said he got involved in his faith by attending a youth retreat.

“I went, begrudgingly, and I was angry and upset” said Clear.

He said he was the kid who sat in the back and didn’t connect before the retreat.

“I just met Jesus that weekend. And I wanted nothing to do with that before then.”

After his experience, Clear knew he wanted to give back by being involved in ministry, particularly for the youth. He worked at a church in Atlanta, a Presbyterian church, a couple non-denominational churches, and finally landed at Amplify.

He can usually be seen at any given service giving a sermon on stage. If he’s not speaking in front of a crowd, there is usually a crowd gathering around him. Clear makes it a point to know everyone who walks in the door at Amplify.

He wants them to continue to come back.

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Amplify Church is located in the Strip District, with many of their services being in the evening.

Around 37% of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center say they dislike religious services, such as church, and cite that for why they are not in attendance.

“The biggest thing I’ve always done is say ‘how can I create church for people that don’t want anything to do with church,” said Clear.

Others like Andy Brunette, a 22 year old living in Pittsburgh, said that the services at Amplify have changed him.

From the sermons that go into the Old and New Testaments, Brunette believes that the church does a great job at promoting the Bible and making it a fun learning environment for people wanting to stay close to God.

“I don’t think it’s specifically the church itself that changed me, but it’s the people in the church,” said Brunette.

Amplify has a younger demographic that they reach out to, with additional services at Duquesne and Point Park University to reach out to the college-aged adults.

“There are two types of churches – church lowercase ‘c’ and Church capital ‘c’,” Brunette explains, “church lowercase ‘c’ being Amplify and Church capital ‘c’ being the people.”

He also says that Amplify does a good job of ‘plugging’ people in to the church once they start attending. They do this by making it a community and keeping a constant conversation among members before and after services.

Before any given service, members can be seen setting up chairs and asking others how they could help. After the services, students may spend up to an extra hour talking to other students from universities around Pittsburgh while encouraging new members to keep returning.

Other Christian churches in the area have struggled to retain the college student crowd.

“The interesting thing is that while we started as a church focused on young adults and college kids, we have hardly had any college kids (recently),” said Jeff Eddings, Pastor of Hot Metal Bridge Congregation.

The South Side church is connected to both the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church, making it a place of worship for multiple religious sects. However, the community has struggled to retain new members.

“We still have young adults participating in our community, but we are not intentionally doing anything programmatically for them or to intentionally reach them,” Eddings said.

For other churches, programming is one of the biggest things to get students involved.

Like the ICP, Amplify tries to get the word out to their community by visiting college campuses weekly during the fall and spring semesters.

“Instead of making students come to us, we try and come to them,” said Sarah Pais, director of the U at Point Park – a branch of Amplify Church’s youth outreach.

By traveling to different campuses and holding ‘RIOT’ events in which the church’s band plays for a crowd of college students, the church has been able to grow.

“It’s been successful so far. We just want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome no matter what (they) believe.”

The church also has the U at Duquesne, IUP, Pittsburgh East, and at City, which is their Strip District location.

These locations serve young adults, specifically college-aged students, and basically bring church to a different location. At the services, there is a sermon and prayer sessions as well as an intertwining of college campuses.

“We don’t really want to shove Jesus down their throats, we kind of just want to present the ideas.”

Pais says this concept has proven successful because people don’t feel pressure to commit to a religion. By coming to the students, the church has acclaimed their audience.

According to the Pew Research Center study, one in four Americans have not found a house of religion they enjoy, and 14% say they do not feel welcome at particular religious services, which is why Amplify goes to these campuses and travels to different locations to talk about Christianity and the Bible.

“Growing up we never really talked about religion in the house, we never really talked about God,” said Ryan Perumal, a student at Robert Morris University.

“I believe a lot of young adults now, when they were kids when they went to other churches and it was so strict,” said Perumal, who grew up in a Christian-Hindu household.

“People treated churches like a country club. Everyone is all high and mighty like ‘hey, I go to church, respect me,’” he added.

Perumal explains that churches today should be more welcoming rather than excluding, citing that a communal environment has helped him more than it being an individualistic environment.

Being in an environment where young people are encouraged to attend events, like at Amplify and the ICP, is crucial to keeping the churches open to everyone.

“(Churches) should be more of a hospital, where people go for healing and support.”

He added that he is not talking down to other churches, but they do not touch on the subject of people being forgiven for their sins.

The Pew Research Center cites that 66% of those who attend church at least once a month go to find comfort in time of trouble, so when they are not feeling they are going to a place of healing, it can be disheartening.

“We raise up people within our church to start serving, start loving on people, and start showing that grace that has been given to them,” said Clear.