Rare Big 5 Doubleheader Scheduled for Palestra This Season

Temple will play La Salle and Saint Joseph's will play Penn on January 20th in a throwback doubleheader at Penn's ancient gym.

The Palestra - Penn vs. Saint Joseph's

Penn and Saint Joseph’s before a January game at the Palestra in 2006. (Photo by John Shadle via Wikimedia Commons; used under a Creative Commons license)

The Palestra is always named among the best gyms in college basketball. The arena, built in 1927 and most recently renovated in 2000, used to be the biggest, best gym in the city. And so it hosted many double- and triple-headers involving teams from the Big 5, the city’s informal basketball association.

As college basketball became more of a television attraction, the doubleheaders became harder to schedule. The city’s round robin basketball games ended in 1991, but returned in 1999. Doubleheaders, though, have only been done sporadically since — teams understandably don’t want to give up a home game to play a neutral gym.

Fortunately, next season is one of those occasions. The Big 5 announced this morning that, on January 20th, four Big 5 teams will play in a a doubleheader. Penn will play Saint Joseph’s, while Temple will take on La Salle. The doubleheader is being held to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Big 5.

“The Athletics Directors wanted to do something very special to celebrate this unique achievement,” Steve Bilsky, the former Penn AD who heads up the Big 5, said in a release. “We thought nothing would capture its history better than a competition to be held in the famed Cathedral of Basketball.”

Only Villanova qualified for the NCAA tournament among city teams last year, but Temple, La Salle and St. Joe’s have all qualified for the tournament in one of the last three seasons. Penn recently hired a new coach, Steve Donahue, who took Cornell to three straight NCAA tournaments from 2008-2010.

Scheduling a doubleheader was an arduous task, apparently. “The fact that we were able to pull it off in a very challenging college basketball scheduling environment is a credit to the ADs, coaches and conference commissioners, all of whom displayed tremendous perseverance and flexibility,” Bilsky said in the statement.

It will be a true doubleheader, as both games will be included on the same ticket. More details are forthcoming.

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