The students' perspective on Villanova Sports.

A Brief History of the Philadelphia Big 5

-Philadelphia Big 5

-Philadelphia Big 5

Villanova is one day away from playing their final big 5 game of the season when they head over to the Liacouras Center to play the Temple Owls. A win tomorrow would make the Wildcats the undisputed kings of Philadelphia, going undefeated in their Big 5 games this season. For those who don’t know much or are new to the Philadelphia Big 5, this one’s for you.

The Philadelphia Big 5 was established to help fund the maintenance and upkeep of the Palestra (UPenn’s home court) and to exhibit the talent Philadelphia basketball had to offer. The announcement of the new Philadelphia Big 5 was made on November 23, 1954 by University of Pennsylvania president Dr. Gaylord Harnwell. The Philadelphia Big 5 consists of Villanova, Temple, La Salle, Penn, and St. Joe’s. The Philadelphia Big 5 should not be confused with the City Six which is the citywide intramural tournament and includes Drexel University.

The five schools agreed to split the profits of the Big 5 games evenly. Games used to be scheduled in double or even triple-headers and athletic directors would build the rest of the schedule around these Big 5 games. Back then, the games featured at the Palestra would be some of the most memorable and wildest crowd atmospheres ever. Rollout signs filled with innuendo, screaming fans, streamers after the opening basket, and the music of the bands all helped to create an intense game day environment; especially amongst the rivalries.

-University of Pennsylvania Athletics

-University of Pennsylvania Athletics

Each team wanted to prove that they were the best in Philadelphia and their fans were there to back them every step of the way. In regards to the Big 5 Rollie Massimino once said, “Every game is like going to the Final Four.” He would know, considering how he had been there on his way to winning the 1985 National Championship. Massimino would go onto say, “It doesn’t matter if you’re ranked nationally. The Big 5 is about bragging rights in Philadelphia, where basketball is so competitive and so important.”

Some of the biggest rivalries in the Big 5 are Villanova-St. Joseph’s which is also known as the “Holy War,” as well as Temple-St. Joseph’s. The “Holy War” had a number of intense games over years, as well as pranks between the two schools. In 2003, the Will D. Cat mascot was stolen by a St. Joseph’s student and a Villanova student was apprehended for trying to get back at the Hawk mascot. In 2012, St. Joe’s Halil Kanacevic infamously flipped the bird at the Villanova student section, only to choke the game away at the end when failing to convert two free throws. While the Temple-St. Joseph’s rivalry may not have a nickname, it certainly does not lack intensity. One of the defining moments of the rivalry was in 2005, when former Temple coach John Chaney sent in Nehemiah Ingram off the bench to intentionally foul St. Joe’s John Bryant. This resulted in a fractured arm for Bryant and the rise in intensity for this rivalry.

The Big 5 began to shift in other directions in the mid-1980s. After Villanova had won it all in 1985 in what is billed as “one of the greatest upsets in sports,” they began to look in other directions and interests when it came to scheduling. Temple was also considering following suit. However, the Big 5 would stay together, at least until 1991; when the Big 5 series would be put to rest. The Big East and the Atlantic-10 were on the rise. Villanova was in the Big East and Temple, La Salle, and St. Joe’s were in the Atlantic-10. Scheduling demands and needs led to the end of the Big 5. Teams only had two Big 5 games a year on their schedule, instead of four like in seasons past.

The spirit of Philadelphia basketball and the Big 5 did not falter, and in 1999 the tradition was reborn. Even though not all the games would be played at the Palestra, the Big 5 was back. There has been talks about adding Drexel into the mix, but those rumors have died down.

“They say there’s no trophy for winning the Big Five. They must not be from Philadelphia.”


There is no official tournament for the Big 5, the champion(s) are decided by whoever has the best record in Big 5 games.

Big 5 Titles:
1. Temple, 27
2. Villanova, 21
3. St. Joseph’s, 20
4. Penn, 13
5. La Salle, 11

This is a look at the results from each year:

Results (Big 5 Record):
1955-56: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
1956-57: La Salle/St. Joseph’s/Temple (3-1)
1957-58: Temple (4-0)
1958-59: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
1959-60: St. Joseph’s/Villanova (3-1)
1960-61: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
1961-62: Villanova (4-0)
1962-63: Penn/Villanova (3-1)
1963-64: La Salle (3-1)
1964-65: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
1965-66: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
1966-67: Villanova (4-0)
1967-68: St. Joseph’s (3-1)
1968-69: La Salle (4-0)
1969-70: Penn (4-0)
1970-71: Penn (4-0)
1971-72: Penn/Temple (3-1)
1972-73: Penn (4-0)
1973-74: Penn (4-0)
1974-75: La Salle (4-0)
1975-76: St. Joseph’s/Villanova (3-1)
1976-77: Penn/Temple (3-1)
1977-78: Temple/Villanova (3-1)
1978-79: Penn/Temple (3-1)
1979-80: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
1980-81: FIVE WAY TIE (2-2)
1981-82: St. Joseph’s/Temple (3-1)
1982-83: Villanova (3-1)
1983-84: La Salle/Temple (3-1)
1984-85: Villanova (4-0)
1985-86: St. Joseph’s/Temple (3-1)
1986-87: Temple (4-0)
1987-88: Temple (4-0)
1988-89: La Salle/Temple (3-1)
1989-90: La Salle (4-0)
1990-91: St. Joseph’s/Temple (3-1)
1991-92: FIVE WAY TIE (1-1)                               -End of Round Robin Format-
1992-93: Temple (2-0)
1993-94: Penn/Temple (2-0)
1994-95: St. Joseph’s/Temple (2-0)
1995-96: Temple (2-0)
1996-97: Temple/Villanova (2-0)
1997-98: FIVE WAY TIE (1-1)
1998-99: Villanova (2-0)
1999-00: Temple/Villanova (3-1)                     -Return of Round Robin Format-
2000-01: Villanova (4-0)
2001-02: Penn (4-0)
2002-03: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
2003-04: St. Joseph’s (4-0)
2004-05: Temple/Villanova (3-1)
2005-06: Villanova (4-0)
2006-07: Villanova (4-0)
2007-08: Temple/Villanova (3-1)
2008-09: Villanova (4-0)
2009-10: Temple (4-0)
2010-11: Villanova (4-0)
2011-12: St. Joseph’s/Temple (3-1)
2012-13: La Salle/Temple/ (3-1)

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1 Response »

  1. Great article. Except even though Temple’s Big 5-leading 27 Titles seem impressive, only 6 of those are out-right, compared to Villanova’s 10 outright titles. There can only be one king of Philly, and its Nova.

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About The Author

Eugene Rapay '16 created "The Bench Mob" in November 2013. He joined the Villanova Times in 2012 as a writer. A Westchester, NY native, who will bring top quality coverage of all things Villanova sports.


January 2014
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