Fran Dunphy Hopes New Big 5 Classic Can be a "Total Event that Everybody Shares in"
In 2022, Barstool Sports ran an invitational tournament at the Wells Fargo Center which drew a little more than 5,000 people. There were no Philadelphia teams in the event, which featured Mississippi State and the mid majors of Toledo, UAB, and Akron. Nineteen days later, a Big 5 doubleheader involving La Salle, Temple, St. Joe’s, and Penn, drew only 3,000 people at The Palestra.
Granted, the Barstool games took place on a Friday night, while the Big 5 games were on a Wednesday, but it was unfathomable to think that a Barstool event involving four non-local teams would outdraw local squads in their hometown.
That’s a snapshot of the current Big 5, which is fighting for relevancy in an oversaturated Philadelphia sports market. Understanding the need to do things differently in 2023, Drexel was added to the group as an official member, and a new tripleheader event was scheduled for December 2nd at the Wells Fargo Center. Dubbed the “Big Five Classic,” all six teams will play on the same day.
We had La Salle head coach Fran Dunphy on Wednesday’s episode of Crossing Broadcast, and asked him about the new approach.
“There’s been talk throughout the Big 5 schools over the last number of years, of how we can do this better,” Dunphy said. “I have a great admiration for Jay Wright in so many ways, and obviously he did a phenomenal job coaching at Villanova. What he accomplished was extraordinary. And he’s always been in favor of continuing the Big 5 as it’s been, because he felt it was important. I think we all felt that way, that we did not want this to die, and things go in cycles, you know? When I was a kid, you would have never thought about going away to college. There were so many great choices here in Philadelphia. That’s what we all did, however, time’s have changed, life is different. ESPN has changed everything we’ve done in college basketball. Every game we play is on ESPN+ at the minimum, and so is any other division 1 team. So you can see any games you want on TV. I think that diminishes the on-site (reasons) for why people go to games. It’s easy to watch it on TV. It’s that way.”
Dunphy was pragmatic in talking about the reality of the Philly sports climate in 2023.
“There are so many more things to do compared to when college basketball in Philadelphia was in it’s heyday,” he admitted. “There were a lot of people going to the Palestra, which is still one of the great nights, in my memories, I still like going to the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs, just to sit there in the corner and watch two great games. But people are different these days. We have to figure out how to do this better, and this is our try to do it better. …I applaud those people within the Big 5 and the university administrators, to say ‘lets try something different and see what we can do.’
The tripleheader is the culmination of a new format in which the six teams are split into two groups for pod play. This year, La Salle is with Temple and Drexel, while Villanova, St. Joe’s, and Penn are in the other pod. Each team plays the other two on campus, then will be seeded for the tripleheader. The top seeds in each pod play for the championship, the second place teams play each other, and same with the third place teams.
“It’s a start,” said Dunphy of the format change. “Maybe we can make this thing a total event that everybody shares in. Not just the six schools, but the city itself is benefited by the uniqueness that we have in Philadelphia, where everybody does try to play everybody else. It doesn’t happen in D.C., or New York, or Chicago, or LA, or what have you.”
“It’s interesting what we do and what we have. Let’s celebrate it rather than letting it go by the wayside.”
Big 5 Classic tickets are $45 at big5classic.com. That’s $15 per game, with access to all three. Here’s our full interview with Fran: