It seems odd to call Philadelphia a basketball town. Despite their success early this season, the Sixers are a distant fourth in fan interest as far the city’s professional teams go. The Eagles and Phillies dominate the headlines, and the Flyers have an avid, raucous following. But with five Division I basketball programs (actually six, but no one cares about Drexel) clustered together within miles of each other, the city every year morphs into one of the true havens of college hoops as soon as the Eagles are eliminated.
The Big 5 started in 1955 when the athletic directors at La Salle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova decided they would all play the vast majority of home games at the Palestra on Penn’s campus in doubleheader formats. Out of this arrangement, the city series was born, an annual round-robin tournament between the five schools. Several major cities have multiple major programs, but none of them play each other with any regularity. Yet for all but an eight-year stretch in the '90s, the Big 5 schools have dutifully faced each other, playing for a largely mythic city championship and bragging rights at Sonny Hill League summer games.