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How Big is it?: Debating the Big 5

150px-Philadelphia_Big_5_logoIs Villanova's out-of-conference schedule too weak? Some commenters seem to think so. The options to resolve that perceived deficiency have been kicked around in the comments. One of the more drastic options: Killing the Big 5.

The perception around the Philadelphia college sports community is that Villanovans have no interest in the tradition of the Big 5 or any love of the history of the Palestra. Personally, I appreciate both of those things. In fact, many of my closest friends from Villanova are also fans of the Big 5.

I can't do justice then, to the opinions of Villanova fans who feel otherwise. For this, I turned to a fellow blogger from (often off-color) Fact on Villanova Sports.

Here is what Fact had to say:

Gone are the days of streamers, doubleheaders and Villanova fans pasionate about beating the other city schools.  All we see now is about thirty overzealous St. Joe's fans come to The Pavillion once every two years eager to curse Villanova because they weren't accepted.

The Big 5 was great, but unfortunately it isn't anymore.  With the combination of the City Series and "Maui Invitational" type tournaments, that leaves Villanova very little space to schedule a competitive non-conference schedule if the teams they play in the Big 5 are down and they get sent to a lackluster Preseason Tournament.  That makes for a somewhat crappy bottom line (less possible home games) to go along with the fact that it's a crapshoot as to whether we or not we are going to see competitive basketball.

With few exceptions, Villanova has dominated the City Series in the last few years and I don't see that coming to an end, given that they are the only team in the city from a power conference, recruiting and landing McDonald's All Americans etc.

I'm also failing to mention the fact that the Big 5 itself has been emasculated by Drexel wanting to join the party with all this "City 6" nonsense; when you pick a five year college, you don't deserve good basketball.

The writing was on the wall for The Big 5's demise on April 1, 1985 when Villanova announced to the world it's intentions to become an elite program.  25 years later, it's simply time to take what's left of The Big 5 behind the barn and shoot it like you would a tired old dog.

Here is my reply:

In the last few years, Villanova's strength of schedule has been rated 15th (2010), 23rd (2009), 24th (2008), 5th (2007) and 5th (2006) by Ken Pomeroy. To be clear, that means that we went to the Final Four when our schedule was weaker than it was in the past season.

Mid Major teams that want to compete schedule a tough out-of-conference because they have to. Major conference teams rack up the RPI during the conference schedule.

The Big 5 is a tradition that is going into it's 55th year. It is considered among the best and most notable basketball rivalries. While the days of streamers are gone, the passion and excitement are not. When our Big 5 opponents tip off against us, they come to win and they will give us a fight every time... and sometimes they win. The Big 5 title is usually a given for Villanova, but it is not always the case. It's hardly ever our biggest challenge, but any one game can catch you sleeping.

The Big 5 teaches our players what it means to play in a hostile environment without going far from homed. It gives the fans a set of local rivals, people you work with, or see at the bar.

Without the Big 5 we likely don't play Temple or St. Joes every year. Some Villanova fans would never experience watching a game at the Palestra (and it IS an experience, love it or hate it), or taunting St. Joes fans with a roll-out.

If you wanted to make the past year's schedule tougher, how about eliminating Fordham, FDU or Delaware? All three are rated at or around 300th in Division I by Ken Pomeroy. The four Big 5 opponents were rated 22nd (Temple), 162nd (La Salle), 175th (St. Joes) and 299th (Penn). Penn has only recently fallen below the top-100, and while LaSalle finished the season with a whimper, they played us before injuries crippled their lineup.

The Big 5 doesn't hurt our strength of schedule very much. It is four guaranteed fan-friendly games in Philadelphia. Staying close to home is not a detriment: this year, Syracuse didn't leave the state of New York until their conference schedule started on December 29th -- they won 30 games and lost to the runner-up in the Sweet 16.

If Villanova left the Big 5, what would happen to the 55 year old tradition anyway? Would it just go away and die? Would it lie dormant, waiting for the Wildcats to once again rejoin? Would it continue on as the Big 4? Or would Drexel finally get their sought-afte call-up to join one of college basketball's most storied rivalries?

For the other Big 5 schools, the round-robin a highlight of their basketball season. Perhaps this is because the students and alumni of St. Joes, La Salle and Temple are far more likely to hail from the Philadelphia metro area. For Penn fans, the Big 5 games are among their toughest rivals, and besides, what athletic conference trades more on tradition than the Ivy League?

At the moment it certainly seems like the Athletics department is committed to being a part of the Big 5. Would an outpouring of alumni sentiment change their minds? Where do Villanova fans stand on this anyway? Is disinterest in the Big 5 near-universal, or is it generational?