Students will wake up this Saturday morning, in spite of whatever events of the night before that they may or may not remember, drape themselves in their lucky shirts and begin their journey.
The fans will pour into subway cars, painting the Orange Line yellow and blue first when the Broad Street Line stops at Olney near La Salle, then red a few minutes later at Cecil B. Moore as the Temple students load in.
Their great journey will end at the Palestra, the Cathedral of College Basketball, where for one day, church services will be conducted again.
Once upon a time, the Big 5 was the cat’s meow. It wasn’t no jive turkey. It was fresh. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, it was recognized nationally for bringing together teams year after year.
The manner in which the round-robin grew to prominence was based on two ideals. Games were played at the Palestra, and they were often paired as doubleheaders, providing spectators with a day’s worth of top-level basketball action.
Now though, besides the rare exception like Saturday, when College GameDay descends on the Palestra before a doubleheader featuring four Big 5 schools happens in the afternoon, those days are gone.
And that’s okay.
Over the years, coaches stopped wanting to play their “home” games away from home, and quite rightly. Except for St. Joe’s, the trek to the Palestra is a tough one for students from other schools to make, especially when there is less money to be made by playing the games away from home.
Each team’s respective athletic director should look after his or her own school.
Because of that, the double headers fell to the wayside. For four of the schools in the Big 5, this isn’t a huge loss. We’ve seen in recent years that when teams get hot — Jameer Nelson’s Hawks of the early 2000s, Kyle Lowry’s ’Nova squads — they get their due. Villanova has every game this season televised, and Temple, La Salle and St. Joe’s have a fair share of the spotlight.
For everyone but Penn, the Big 5 is not about visibility at all. Those four teams could fill their schedules with tough opponents even if they weren’t a part of this agreement.
The Quakers need that same visibility of playing four tough teams on their schedule, which is automatically one of the toughest in the Ivy League just from those contests.
But more importantly, Penn needs it to maintain the program’s relevant mystique.
Having every game at the Palestra gave the arena an aura that it still carries to this day, which ultimately earned it its nickname as the Cathedral.
Playing the games on Penn’s campus connected the Quakers to the quality of play that existed throughout the Big 5. While the likelihood of the Red and Blue ever making another Final Four is slim to none, keeping those opponents on the schedule still serves as a reminder to anyone who knows Philadelphia college hoops history that Penn used to run this town.
That moment in Big 5 history has passed. Penn is no longer the king, or a jack for that matter. Due to sponsorship deals and television contracts, the athletic directors at the other universities in the Big 5 have renovated their own arenas, moving away from the days when Big 5 basketball started and ended at the Palestra.
So enjoy this upcoming Saturday.
If you’re lucky enough to be attending GameDay in the morning, or either of the games in the afternoon, cherish the opportunity.
Four hours may seem like a long time for a sermon, but those floorboards, those seats and those backboards have seen a lot, and they have wisdom to impart.