The Philadelphia History of the Big 5

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It is the year 1954, and Pennsylvania president, Dr. Gaylord Harnwell makes an official announcement to form the Big 5 of Philadelphia, which includes Villanova, La Salle, St Josephs, Temple, and Penn, at Penn’s Houston Hall on November 23rd, and they play the games at the Palestra, at the University of Penn’s campus. The athletic directors : La Salle’s Jim Henry, St Joseph’s George Bertelsman, Temple’s Josh Cody, Villanova’s Ambrose Dudley, and Penn’s Jerry Ford, were the one’s who helped form the Big 5.

At the time, these men did not know what they just formed, the most storied tradition in unique rivalry in college basketball. The Big 5 was formed the year after La Salle won the NCAA Tournament in 1954. They then went on to form a tournament called the Red Robin, where the teams would play double or triple headers. The revenue they got from the concessions were split evenly around the 5 teams. Unfortunately, the tournament ended in 1991.

Not soon long after, though the Red Robin tournament was revived in 1999 and has been played up until 2022-23. Something worth noting is that the teams no longer split the revenue from Palestra evenly and they don’t use Palestra as often. The rivalry between Villanova and St Joseph known as the “Holy War,” and St Joseph and Temple, known as the “Goon Gate,” were the most intense rivalries of the Big 5.

They get the Goon Gate nickname from John Chaney, Temple’s former head coach, who sent in one of his players to foul John Bryant intentionally, which fractured Bryant’s arm. La Salle also has a rival, they consider Saint Joseph’s as their biggest rival.

The Big 6?

Now, beginning in 2024, Drexel will be added to the Big 5 which is a member of the city six, a competition between the six Philadelphia schools. The talks were heating up in 2006-07, when Drexel beat 3 of the 5 teams, but no changes were made.

They discussed a way to resuscitate the Big 5 according to the Athletic, but felt like their was a decline in the series of the Big 5 due to Villanova’s recent dominance. A month ago, in January 2023, the Big 5 announced that Drexel will be added in 2024 and will rename it, the Big 6. The six teams will be split into three-team pods, playing each other in November.

Then, in the first week of December a triple header will be held to play a fifth place, 3rd place, and championship game. Many criticized the move by the Big 5, as it eliminated the Red Robin tournament.

Success Rate

In Philadelphia Villanova is known as the powerhouse, as many would say they are a blue blood program. In this series, 29 championships and 17 outright ones. Next is Temple with 28 and 6 outright, sharing the championship with Villanova this year. Then it is St Joseph’s with 20 and 9 outright, Penn with 14 and 6 outright, and La Salle with 11 and 4 outright championships.

Temple dominated up until 2000, then Villanova took over, passing them in 2019. The biggest drought in the Big 5 of a championship is currently La Salle with a 10-year drought and before 2019, it would have been Penn, with a 17-year drought. Overall, this is a well rounded group of teams who battle it out on the gridiron every night. The Big 5 and what will be Big 6 is the best rivalry to the people in Philadelphia.

Don’t sleep on Drexel, they are coming!

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