On the media room wall at the Palestra, there is a framed photograph, a snapshot in time of better days from Penn basketball.
No, it’s not something from the 1979 Final Four. Nor is it even a photo of an Ivy League championship team.
But the photograph, showing a massively packed press row for a 2007 matchup against then-No. 1 North Carolina, provides a glimpse into a part of Penn’s past, and something that can easily be brought back into the future.
Scheduling big opponents used to be a staple of the Quakers’ slate. The North Carolina game from the 2007 season is an exception as Penn usually has to go on the road to face a marquee opponent.
But trips to North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky, just to name a few, were important to the program. Playing in preseason tournaments against teams that were almost surefire losses on the schedule served the same purpose.
It’s not like Penn actually thought it would be an even matchup against these teams. Quite simply, games against big-name opponents are about an experience.
It allows alumni to re-engage with the program, using destinations like Hawaii in 2006 or Duke in 2012 as talking points to draw donations. It gives players a chance to play in some of the big-name arenas in college basketball outside of the Palestra.
And students on campus certainly take notice when their school is playing a top opponent.
So when Penn’s 2014-15 schedule came out, there were all of the usual suspects. Fourteen conference games against Ivy opponents. The normal set of Big 5 games. A parade of local mid-majors to fill out the slate.
But the one thing clearly missing was a marquee team or two. Sure, Villanova was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Vanderbilt provided a winter break getaway. But let’s be honest: Those don’t quite whet the appetite of those involved in the program. Penn plays the Wildcats every year, and Vanderbilt is, at best, a middle-of-the-pack SEC team.
So now it’s time for that to change.
With a new coach at the helm, the Quakers need to bring back big names to the schedule. Even if it may not happen right away, as Penn has contracts in place against opponents for future schedules.
Athletic Director Grace Calhoun, for one, seems on board.
“We’ve looked really closely at the operating budget,” she said. “I think the Penn way of doing things is always going to be that motto that we do more with less. I think our coaches take pride in the fact that whistles and bells don’t make up for a better experience, that investing in the right ways to make it a real value added experience is what we want to do.
“At times we weren’t capitalizing on the some of the good things we could be doing. We should be playing in an exempt tournament and ideally some place warm in the winter. Make it a nice fan trip, cultivation opportunity.”
It doesn’t have to be another trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational or a flight to the Battle 4 Atlantis (not that anyone would be opposed to that!), but it’s time for Big 5 opponents to no longer be the biggest name on Penn’s schedule.
In that December 2007 game against North Carolina, Penn didn’t win. Okay, let’s be real, it wasn’t even close.
Penn hung with them during the early first half before the Tar Heels played like the No. 1 squad.
But that game left an impression on everyone there. The idea that a big name squad like UNC would not only play Penn but come into the Palestra displayed the Quakers’ historical significance as a program while providing fans, alumni and players an experience they won’t forget.
It’s time for a new picture on the wall.Comments powered by Disqus
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