Big 5 schools seeking to reimagine series scheduling for college basketball institution: Source


The Big 5 is not going to die, that’s the critical message Philadelphia hoops coaches and administrators want to send following a meeting about the beloved City Series this week. On Nov. 30 a sparse announced crowd of 3,300 attended a doubleheader at the Palestra, setting off alarm bells in the city about the future of the traditional hoops rivalry games.

  • Representatives from Villanova, Temple, Saint Joseph’s, Penn, La Salle and Drexel have been meeting to figure out what the future is for the Big 5, a source involved in the conversations but not authorized to speak publicly told The Athletic.
  • The realities of current college basketball schedules have led to struggles in making the city institution vibrant and relevant in recent years.
  • The hope is to turn the games into a true event, with multiple options on the table for how to accomplish that, the source said.

What’s gone wrong?

The meeting, the source said, was not merely reactionary to those games. The group, including Drexel, has been meeting for months, trying to find a way to resuscitate the Big 5. But certainly, the coaches and administrators feel the heat for a call to action even more following the disappointing doubleheader. “It’s conversations about how to breathe life into it,’’ the source said.

Most critical — everyone is on board. Years ago, Villanova turned into the city villain when it cited conference scheduling conflicts and, in the eyes of many, temporarily killed the Big 5. The bitter feelings persisted for years, so bad that Rollie Massimino held a longtime grudge against the city that once loved him.

Those same scheduling conflicts persist — and frankly are even more complicated at some level — but the coaches and administrators are not looking for a way to end the Big 5, but rather, to save it. “We are all committed,’’ the source says. That includes Drexel, which is not an original Big 5 member but has been welcomed in as part of the City 6 and will be included in any scheduling going forward.

What are the options moving forward?

Finding a workable solution will require some creativity, the source admits. The Big 5 has been hurt by both a lack of competition and an overcrowded basketball calendar. As Villanova soared to national prominence, the Wildcats began to run roughshod over its Brotherly Love competitors. At one point, they owned a 25-game win streak, a record for the 63-year-old institution. Mix in swollen conference membership and league commitments — the Wildcats, for example, play in both the Gavitt Games and the Big 12/Big East Challenge — and more often than not, Big 5 games were arbitrarily shoehorned in where they fit, with little to no juice. Sometimes they’re played on campus, sometimes at the Palestra. Saint Joseph’s and La Salle are both part of the Atlantic 10, which makes discerning league battles from Big 5 games difficult.

It all led to a watered-down treatment of what was once a proud Philadelphia tradition, the seeming nadir coming at that doubleheader, when the schools didn’t even bring their bands to the Palestra.

Coaches and administrators are kicking around all sorts of ideas — there is still a desire to crown a Big 5 champion — including a two-day round-robin tournament at the Palestra. They’ve looked at various calendar dates — maybe during the holidays, or perhaps centering it around the ArmyNavy game weekend in early December. The goal is to make it feel more like an event, and more specifically like a Philadelphia event. They are considering sponsorship and various ways to improve the branding, and incorporate all of the Big 5 entities — including the website and the Big 5 Hall of Fame — under one umbrella.

The goal — or at least the hope — is to find a remedy by next season.

(Photo: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)


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