Adding up both sides of a rivalry

Drive for 25 miles to the west down Highway 171 and eventually, after passing through those trademark Kansas cornfields, you’ll come to a place called Pittsburg.

Continue into town and you can’t help but run into the campus of Pittsburg State University. Here, much hatred is directed toward a city to the east, Joplin, and its school, Missouri Southern. The feeling is no doubt mutual.

Whether it’s the mascot fight at half court during the last basketball game at Young Gymnasium or the brawl on the field before the home football game in 1994, Southern and Pittsburg State have a lot of not-so-friendly history together.

PSU places billboards on Range Line. Southern placed a billboard near the state line on Highway 171.

PSU sponsored Joplin High School football games on the radio. Southern responded by sponsoring Pittsburg High School football on the radio.

Yes, these two schools go way back. The Gorillas and the Lions. Green and gold versus crimson and gold. Beyond Gus the Gorilla and Larry the Lion, these schools go further than competing on the court and gridiron, and compete for overall bragging rights. For students, for staff – for everything.

Athletics aside, this week The Chart takes a look at two schools sitting in each other’s backyards, and how they stack up against each other. President’s perspective on neighbor, rivalUniversity President Bruce Speck has been on the job for almost a year now, and in those months he’s had ample time to compare and contrast Pittsburg State University and Missouri Southern.

So how does the president see Southern comparing to PSU?

International Program:

Pittsburg State was one of five recipients of the Sen. Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization this year. Southern was a spotlight profile in 2004.

“I know historically there has been the notion that the international program brings people and I think that’s true,” Speck said. “What gets me about that is we won an award in 2004, I think we were recognized as a runner up for our international program. Well guess what? Pittsburg State won it in 2008. So in terms of our competitiveness in terms of international (programs), I don’t know that we have the benchmarks to show that that’s really the case.

“We’re making a claim here, all I’m saying is where’s the evidence that that claim is making sense? We got a spotlight award in 2004. Wonderful. That’s national recognition. Pittsburg State gets it in 2008, they win the award. Wow, now we’ve got a competitor in our backyard who, first of all, got the award we didn’t get, and now, that much further down the road, what does it mean to have an international mission? That’s all I’m trying to ask. Give me a factual basis for this claim.”


Pittsburg State posted the largest enrollment in its history this year, 7,127 students, while Southern’s enrollment dropped 5,593 to 5,264.

“If enrollment is the issue, no we don’t (compare),” Speck said. “We’ve lost enrollment the last two years and schools around us have increased enrollment. There’s something we’re not doing that is working against us.”


Officials from both schools think their programs stack up against the others.

“I think we’re absolutely competitive in the quality of education,” Speck said. “We offer a high level of education and I think our students get as good an education as they would at Pitt State. Our professors are dedicated, we have great staff here.”

City life/Cost:

Joplin’s population was estimated at more than 46,000 two years ago, while Pittsburg had a population of 19, 243 at the 2000 census.

“Pittsburg State is trying very much to make sure they can have about the same tuition rate as Southern so they have this in-state tuition,” he said. “That probably would attract people.

“I’ve only been to Pittsburg a couple times but there’s not much there other than the university, so Pittsburg doesn’t have I think the amenities that Joplin has. It’s perhaps more of a college town. Joplin offers many more amenities. We’ve got a mall; we have all kinds of businesses. We’re probably exponentially larger than Pittsburg in that regard.”

Graduate Programs:

Southern offers seven graduate programs with Missouri State University, Northwest Missouri State University, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Southeast Missouri State University.

“Pittsburg has I think really established a reputation for graduate programs,” Speck said. “We have very few, that’s not where we have put our resources. If you want a graduate program and we don’t offer it, we can’t compete that way.”