I received a note from Aaron Bracy over at Philahoops.com about tonight's game. Aaron will be at the game tonight and plans to send live updates to his blog (see above) and to twitter. Hopefully the reception is good and Aaron will be able to convey the excitement from inside the Pavilion.
Why aren't the Big 5 games all played at the Palestra anymore?
While Villanova has taken a good deal of the heat for "breaking up" the Big 5, the problems with the Palestra have been well documented over the years. The lighting is poor, the facilities are antiquated and Penn pockets all revenues from concessions. Aside from the ticket sales, the other four schools raise little revenue from playing at the Palestra (and have to pay Penn "rent" for privilege of playing there). As Aaron noted, the seating capacities at both Villanova's and Temple's campus arenas is greater than 1/2 of the gate at the Palestra. Plus each gets the benefit of a home court advantage in alternating years, something Villanova typically cannot count on at the Palestra, even when the 'Cats played their "big name" guests there in the 1960s and 1970s. The truth is each school alternates as the "host team" in the series (this year Villanova hosts) and has the choice of site, so if Temple wanted to keep up the tradition, they could schedule their matches with Villanova (and all other Big 5 rivals) at the Palestra.
The Palestra made a good deal of sense in the 1950s. The point shaving scandals that touched many teams which had scheduled their games in Madison Square Garden and "pro" arenas controlled by the Ned Irish ring (like the Philadelphia Convention Center). Villanova, unhappy with some of the scheduling practices at the downtown arena, had stopped playing there (and playing the three city schools who scheduled most of their games there) after the 1939 season. Eager for access to a larger facility however, the school opened negotiations with Penn for the use of the Palestra for their higher profile opponents. Penn agreed and Villanova scheduled a number of games during the 1950 season. The experiment was a success and Villanova continued to expand their Palestra schedule during the early 1950s...even scheduling double headers with Penn as co-host. Interestingly, the two schools did not play each other until the Big 5 contracts were signed and a City Series officially inaugurated. The Palestra was chosen because it was located on Penn's campus, and because it had a seating capacity comparable to the Convention Center. The 20,000 seat modern facilities would wait for another two decades.
Villanova and Saint Joseph's played several of their games at the Spectrum in the 1980s, but after several large gates, interest dwindled, and the schools returned to their on campus (or for Saint Joseph's, the Palestra) facilities.
If Villanova wins tonight, they will win their third City Series title in four years. The Wildcats are 22-2 in their last 24 Big 5 games, their last loss came at the hands of Temple last (played in the Liacouras Center). For more pregame information, try VU Hoops.com and Philahoops.com.
I will have the usual recap and breakdown by halves after the game.