St. Joseph’s vs Temple and Philly’s Big 5 Showcase the Best in College Basketball

Howard Smith-USA Today Sports

Last night the St. Joseph’s Hawks edged the Temple Owls, 70-69, to improve their standing in a quest to become the 2012-13 Big Five champion.

These standings are unofficial and rarely impact which team earns a bid to the NCAA Tournament.  The bragging rights for the winner of this college basketball alliance, one nearly 60 years strong, exceed jurisdiction west of the New Jersey Turnpike.

But the battle of the Big Five, Philadelphia’s unofficial college basketball league, endures despite the madness created by ridiculous conference realignment.

It could be the last time the Hawks and Owls play as members of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Temple is scheduled to join the beleaguered Big East Conference next year.

But the two will continue to compete in an alliance that represents the best of college basketball; the regional rivalries, homegrown heroes and bragging rights. Yes bragging rights, which still mean something in Philadelphia.

LaSalle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova make up the Big Five and compete for a city title determined by who emerges with the best record against the other schools.

Last season St. Joseph’s and Temple shared the title.  Each finished 3-1 against their Philadelphia counterparts. They are 2-1 so far.  Both have LaSalle left on the schedule.

It may seem easy to form a commitment to a cross-town rival.  But the Georgetown Hoyas and Maryland Terrapins, located in the same metro area, haven’t played in a scheduled men’s basketball game since 1993.

This is why the Big Five’s longevity is so special.  They keep it going, despite representing three different conferences.  They keep it going, regardless of other schedule obligations.

The Big Five grew from the idea of promoting Philadelphia basketball to a source of city pride that includes a Big Five Hall of Fame and annual awards banquet.  It’s one of the most enduring examples of sports tradition in college basketball.

According to Robert S. Lyons, author of Palestra Pandemonium: A History of the Big Five, the alliance goes beyond the court.  Over the years Big Five coaches reportedly honored “unwritten agreements not to send game films or scouting reports on their city rivals to out-of-town opponents. Athletic directors wouldn’t schedule home games that conflicted with a Big 5 doubleheader at the Palestra. Players would never think of transferring from one Big 5 school to another.”

The commitment to preserve allegiance to a league bonded by nothing more than city pride should be commended in an era where universities routinely sue each other and break contracts.

For a city that takes heat for unruly sports fans, Philadelphia demonstrates the familial character that earned it the nickname the City of Brotherly Love.

Merlisa blogs about Big East Basketball.  Follow her own Twitter: @merlisa

 

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