Like many other college basketball teams, Drexel starts its conference season tonight. This is a decidedly good thing because it means the Dragons no longer have to worry about playing a non-conference schedule that was equally grueling and terrible.
Consider: aside from its participation in the NIT Season Tip-Off (a tournament it can only be in every few years at the most), Drexel played five road games, four of which were in California, Illinois, North Carolina and Mississippi. And here are the four powerhouse programs that came to Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center for non-conference games: Cleveland State, Tennessee State, St. Francis (Pa.) and Buffalo.
Average RPI? 220.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with scheduling a couple of cupcakes and making one or two long road trips before getting into conference play. But issues can arise when you have to get on a plane, as the Dragons learned last week. And Drexel coach Bruiser Flint has said time and again how he’d prefer to play big-time programs but has struggled to get them on the schedule for a variety of reasons (which were best chronicled in this excellent article from PhilaHoops’ Kevin Rossi). And he’d also like to play other Philly teams but only St. Joe’s will agree to come to the DAC, Drexel’s tiny on-campus gym.
Which brings us to the main point: Isn’t it time the Big 5 just let in Drexel? Or even more specifically, can’t we all just work something out where Drexel is able to play Penn, La Salle, Temple and Villanova in addition to St. Joe’s every season?
Here’s where some college hoops traditionalists might balk and start talking about tradition. And yes, the tradition of the Big 5 is one of the best and proudest in the city, dating all the way back to 1955. But the Big 5 has also evolved over the years, stopping the round-robin series for most of the 1990s and, most recently, moving most of the games out of the hallowed Palestra.
Would it really be any worse adding Drexel, which has proven to be a perennially strong mid-level Division I program? If anything, having six teams in the Big 5 could lead to the revival of city tripleheaders at the Palestra, one of the cooler traditions the Big 5 has ever done.
But how can the Big 5 include six teams, you say? Well, the Big Ten has 12 teams and the Atlantic 10 has 13 teams, so this wouldn’t be anything different. You might even call it a fun quirk.
The real issues seem to be that the current Big 5 teams don’t want to play at the DAC and Flint doesn’t want to play “home” games at the Palestra before then playing road games at the other school’s arenas.
Here’s where a compromise is needed. First, as others have noted, Flint really needs to get over his pride and play at the Palestra. The gym is practically on Drexel’s campus, and if playing there helps facilitate city games, it should be a no-brainer. Flint might complain about fairness but Drexel didn’t join the Division 1 ranks until 1973, two decades after the Big 5 was formed. Call it an entry free.
Some of the other city teams (and their fans) still might not be keen on the idea of playing Drexel every year – as this article, written by VUHoops.com’s Brian Ewart, plainly shows. But Villanova head coach Jay Wright said recently how he loves playing games around the city because they don’t feel like road games. And replacing a team like Rider with Drexel on Villanova’s schedule would be an upgrade, as well a potential boost to the Wildcats’ RPI.
Sure, scheduling can be tricky when you throw another team in the mix. But if five teams can find a way to play each other every year, all six of Philly's Division I college basketball programs should be able to do the same. And that would be a great thing for the city, for hoops fans and, of course, for Drexel’s non-conference schedule.