The Big Five – Nothing Else Comes Close

To those that don’t know, the Philadelphia Big Five is college basketball. This is no exaggeration, either; there is nothing in college sports more special than Big Five basketball. From the outside looking in this doesn’t seem to be so. Let’s face it, the teams are not national powers and only one of them, Villanova, even plays in a “Power Conference,” the Big East. However, to understand the greatness that is the Big Five you have to look back at its storied past.

The Big Five, which consists of the University of Pennsylvania, LaSalle, Temple, St. Joes & Villanova (we’ll get to Drexel in a minute) was formed in 1954 in order to take advantage of the rarity that Philadelphia possesses - five major universities with great athletic programs all within a 20 mile radius of each other. No other city in the nation can match this. And can you believe there was a time when all five of these schools were regulars in the National Top 25? There are even a few national titles on the resume of the Big Five. For close to five decades now the Big Five teams have waged war with each other every year providing college basketball with some of its greatest moments.

It’s more than just good basketball, though. The Big Five is almost like a fraternity. The coaches and players all know one another, the players play summer leagues together, and the coaches are all local guys who seem to be great friends. The coaches will do almost anything to help each other out. For instance, when Drexel opens its new arena in 2005 St Joe’s Head Coach, Phil Martelli, agreed to be the Dragon’s opponent. He said he was doing it as a favor to a friend. If Coach Martelli and the Hawks couldn’t make it, rest assured another school from the City of Brotherly Love would gladly accept.

So the Big Five has great history, great teams and camaraderie between programs that is unmatched in college sports, is there anything else? Well just one thing, and that is that most of the games are played at the Palestra. The Palestra at UPenn is without a doubt the single greatest arena to watch a basketball game, anywhere. If you have never been to a game at the Palestra do yourself a favor and walk the two blocks south and check one out. If you happen to catch a classic match-up like UPenn & St Joe’s you’ll witness one of the greatest atmospheres sports has ever seen, and don’t worry about getting a bad seat, there aren’t any! John Feinstein of Sports Illustrated was quoted as saying “The Palestra is to college basketball what Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are to baseball.”

Now what about Drexel? Well like the name says, it is the Big Five. Drexel is asked to play in the Big Five Classic every year and we generally schedule at least three of the five teams, however we are not officially a member of the Big Five. The scheduling of college basketball these days is not an easy thing and asking all five of these schools to find an extra spot for Drexel every year as well as asking Drexel to fill in two more of its out-of-conference schedule with more Philly teams is not easy to do. Also the Big Five is all about history - a history that Drexel does not have. However it is not all gloomy, for now we do get to play three of the five teams, four of the five last year thanks to an NIT bid against Temple. And in the future, should Drexel continue to improve its team, its fan support and its facilities, the name could be changing to the Big Six. Until then, we’ll just have to prove we belong on the court and in the bleachers.

For more information, visit the official Big 5 home page.

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Questions or comments? Email us at dacpack@drexel.edu.