For the first time in 68 years, the Big 5 is changing.
The historic Philadelphia basketball association announced Tuesday that Drexel will join Penn, Villanova, Temple, La Salle, and St. Joe's in a restructuring of Big 5 play starting for the 2023-24 season. Under the new format, the traditional round robin will be replaced with two three-team pods that will determine seeding in a same-day triple-header to decide the Big 5 championship.
Penn will compete in a pod with Villanova and St. Joe's, while the other pod will consist of Temple, Drexel, and La Salle. Each team will play one matchup against each of the two teams in their pod during the month of November, in their respective facilities.
The winners of each pod will compete in the championship game of the Big 5 Classic, a triple-header that will also include a second- and third-place game across a single afternoon of play. The inaugural event will be held at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, Dec. 2.
“The expanding Big 5 is remembering and honoring the past, but also moving forward,” Penn men’s basketball associate coach Nat Graham said. “I think this new format will hopefully reinvigorate the Big 5 and get the excitement back. It won't be our favorite building, but hopefully we can bring some of the Palestra magic into [the Wells Fargo Center].”
The changes within the Big 5 are part of a larger effort to revitalize the Philadelphia college basketball tradition, which has not expanded since its inception in 1955. The shift to a tournament-style structure breathes new life into an association that has faced declining interest in recent years, while still preserving the legacy of the Big 5.
“Everybody in this city will have 10 days to prepare for what is a scheduled championship game at a neutral site, which is something the city hasn't had before," Penn Associate Athletic Director of External Operations Josh LaRosa said. "I'm hoping that the city will rally around opportunities for college basketball in the city."
Under this reformatted structure, the Palestra — which has long served as the home arena of the Big 5 — will now only host one association game per season. However, other teams will have the opportunity to hold games at the Palestra to continue the Cathedral of College Basketball’s storied history with the Big 5.
“Traditionally, in our round-robin schedule, the Palestra hosts two games a year. Obviously, the Palestra will host one home game a year now for Penn,” LaRosa said. “We're hopeful that other schools within the city will see the benefit of hosting their home game at the Palestra as well, and we will look to our partners in the city to continue their tradition of playing in the Palestra.”
The Big 5 Classic will be the second opportunity for the Quakers to earn a title early in the season, following the creation of the Cathedral Classic last year. Both events present additional chances to prepare for Ivy League play, which the team hopes to capitalize on.
“These two events will be kind of flagpoles set into our season leading up to our league play,” Graham said. “Scheduling is really hard, particularly for Ivy League teams that have the smallest league, so hopefully it'll offset some of that.”