Another chunk out of the Big 5's allure


I get it. I get why Phil Martelli, the last holdout to the true traditions of the Big 5, caved.

His Saint Joseph Hawks haven’t been very good lately and when you’re not very good, giving up a real homecourt advantage to two of your rivals doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

So Martelli, who long has vowed to play his Big 5 games at the Palestra, did what every other college basketball does these days: He looked out for number one.

This year instead of playing its home Big 5 games against Villanova and Temple at the Palestra, they will be played at the Hawks’ newly refurbished Hagan Arena.

“There’s been a lot of discussions at the highest level on campus about creating the buzz, getting the fervor and the fire back,’’ Martelli told the Philadelphia Daily News. “How do you do it? The easy thing is to say win games. To get the building where it’s kind of bursting at the seams again.’’

It’s a smart move on a lot of levels for St. Joe’s. As Dick Jerardi pointed out in the Daily News, the Hawks will be much better but young this season and young teams need all the help they can get. Playing in the familiar and supportive confines of home as often as you can makes sense.

Meantime Villanova, and to a lesser extent Temple, are in something of a transition year. If there is a year that the Hawks could end their three-year drought against Holy War rival Nova and even longer dry patch against the Owls, this is it.

Taking those games out of the Palestra and putting them in the smaller Hagan arena, where opposing team seats are limited, only improves those odds.

And certainly Martelli is in his rights. Why should he adhere to the nostalgia of the past when no one else does? La Salle plays its home games at the Gola Arena. Temple plays only at the Liacouras Center and Villanova hosts at the Pavilion.

So I get it.

I just don’t like it.

This is yet another tiny death to the ventilator-breathing world of tradition. The me-centricities of college athletics have all but taken over. Nothing matters anymore save the answer to one question: How will this benefit me?

There is nothing like the Big 5 anywhere in this country. Not in New York, not in Boston -- nowhere. It is a unique and prized Philadelphia possession, a throwback deferential nod to the past.

Outsiders will argue it is merely a clung-to relic for the old-timers. Those outsiders haven’t witnessed Big 5 magic in the Palestra, where the fans crowd onto the bleachers, the pep bands’ sounds reverberate off the roof and what should be lopsided victories instead turn into nail-biters.

Today’s players may not grow up steeped in the City Series’ lore but they learn to appreciate it and play as hard for bragging rights as their predecessors did.

The fact that some small remnant of that has been able to survive amid the conference shuffling speaks to just how special it is to people in the city.

Martelli’s decision won’t kill the Big 5. The City Series has proved to have the staying power of a cockroach.

But it knocks yet another chunk out of its allure. The doubleheaders are gone, the split house cast aside, the streamers packed up as tokens of another era.

And now this.

Another sign of just where we are in sports today.

The past is meant to be ignored, and traditions, like rules, are meant to be broken.