Tony | How to keep the Big 5 thriving


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The Palestra has seen a lot of Big 5 action over the years, including the now-defunct Big 5 Classic, where fans could enjoy a triple-header featuring all City 6 teams in one afternoon. Nowadays, scheduling issues get in the way of such large-scale events, but the Cathedral of Basketball still remains the mecca of the Philadelphia Big 5.

Photo by Mike Wisniewski


In a college basketball landscape where the Big Ten has 12 teams, the Big 12 has 10, the Catholic 7 may end up with 12 and the Big East is getting deep-sixed after 34 years, where does the Big 5 stand?

Gone are the days of the Big 5 classic, when the City 6 would play at the Palestra so that all of Philadelphia could worship at the Cathedral of Basketball at once.

But for the Cathedral, worship is one thing and commitment is another. Other member schools have complained in the past about Big 5 matchups at the Palestra displacing their home schedules as well as their own Big 5 dockets.

Villanova already has to allot a few contests each season for its “home away from home,” the Wells Fargo Center, usually when larger crowds are anticipated.

Offseason renovations at the Liacouras Center have made Temple less likely to take home games out of its schedule to play at the Palestra, although Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky told the DP last week the Owls would still do so “in the right situation.”

Fortunately, the Palestra still has friends in the right places, including La Salle coach John Giannini and St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. Giannini has endorsed splitting the tickets and bringing back the City Series games to the Palestra on numerous occasions. And Martelli?

“I think in [Martelli’s] point of view, a Big 5 game, he thinks it should be played at the Palestra,” St. Joe’s assistant Mark Bass told the DP last week regarding the Hawks’ “home game” at the Palestra Saturday.

Bilsky told the DP somewhat predictably that St. Joe’s “hasn’t made long-term decisions about other Big 5 games.”

Less predictably, another regional round-robin similar to the Big 5 classic has been conceived.

Six Massachusetts schools — Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, UMass and Holy Cross — were reportedly working with each other to create a college basketball day in Boston next season featuring a triple-header at the TD Garden.

The concept would be to schedule the event each year as an early season tip-off and have the schools square off annually on a rotating basis. Sound familiar, Mr. Bilsky?

“We’ve done it for 57 years so let’s see how these things are sustainable before they do it,” Bilsky said of the potential Bay State classic. “But to me, there should be no clearer reason to start looking something like the [Big 5] alive and improving, because every day some school’s leaving one conference to go to another conference without any rhyme or reason.”

That’s why Bilsky is in talks with La Salle to keep the Explorers playing at the Palestra on an annual basis, talks he only characterizes as “good” at this point.

“The [issue now is] getting more at the Palestra, doing something to kind of jazz up this truly unique tradition,” Bilsky said. “No other city has this. No other city could even try to replicate it today.”

Most Philly hoops fans would agree, as would the two head coaches in tonight’s contest, who have a combined 33 years of coaching in the Big 5 between them.

So when the Liacouras Center welcomes Penn tonight with its new HD-videoboard, LED ribbon system and sleek maroon lighting, Bilsky would have you remember that the intracity fabric of collegiate life should weave through 33rd Street instead of rotating around North Broad.

Bilsky’s right too — when the Big East considers San Diego State for membership, it’s time for schools to revel in their real rivals. For the City teams, that means embracing the Big 5 like never before.

Because after all, there’s a sweet ticket package and an unforgettable tradition to be enjoyed again. But only if Bilsky’s counterparts start putting their package deals where their pride is.

MIKE TONY is a junior English and history major from Uniontown, Pa., and is Senior Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at tony@thedp.com.

SEE ALSO

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