Dick Jerardi: How Big 5 times, and fans, have changed

Posted: January 18, 2012

LAST WEEK'S lead item about it not really mattering to me who wins or loses despite what fans of some city teams may think seems to have struck a nerve. Got a number of interesting responses, every one of them positive and a few quite informative.

What I found out confirmed what I suspected. The local fan bases mirror society where there is no longer room for compromise and hardly anybody listens. Preconceived notions are impossible to shake with facts. Assumptions are made without evidence.

I have been thinking for years that the Internet may be the worst thing that ever happened to journalism. Google has made the media lazy, too reliant on what somebody else said or wrote. Phone calls that actually check facts and/or talk to an actual human being have become an inconvenience at the altar of the 24/7-news cycle.

Fans are no different. They have more access to information than ever before, but access to what, exactly? Many want to read that which confirms what they already think, don't want to be burdened with complex views and certainly do not want to consider anything that differs from what they have been conditioned to believe.

Longtime Daily News reader, college hoops fan and Villanova alum Ed Birchler explained the local phenomenon to me in an email: "I'm a Nova alum and season tix holder who goes back to the early days of the Big 5. I've seen them all going back to the late 50s and those double headers at the Palestra. Believe it or not, back then, the teams competing in those twin bills used to root for each other.

"No lie. Over the years, 95 percent of the schools' fan bases did a complete 180 and now, when you read the school forums, you encounter the 'hate' word regularly. Most of it is jealousy and in some cases schools get more joy out of the other teams losing than their team winning. Which is why you catch some heat if you write about a certain school, the other four or five label you a fan of that school."

As a non-Philadelphian who grew up in Baltimore (where college baskets has always been an afterthought), I have long been bemused by the enmity among some schools' fan bases. I was not here for the doubleheader era at the Palestra. Given what I see and hear today, it would be hard to imagine some of these fans cheering for another school.

Maybe it's the money, which has become so big. Or television, which was an afterthought back in the day. Perhaps it's the importance of conferences. Way back in the day, as the City Series was starting, Villanova was an independent. La Salle, Temple and Saint Joseph's, playing in the old Middle Atlantic Conference, may as well have been independents. Penn was just getting into the Ivy League. Drexel was not in Division I.

I am not much on sports nostalgia or all those historical stats that people who don't know much about the present like to cite, but I do know this: Sounds like it was much more civil around here (and everywhere else) back in the day.


Don't have to tell Villanova fans (or the haters) that not much went right for the Wildcats down the stretch last season or in the first half of this season. A month ago, I got an email from loyal reader Tony Macklin, telling me 'Nova's brutal "spread run" has also gotten lots of discussion. He wanted to know how bad it has been.

The answer? Historically bad.

From the last 14 games of last season (including the Big East and NCAA tournaments) through the West Virginia game on Dec. 28, Villanova was 2-21 against the spread, 1-13 to end last season, 1-8 to start this one.

Las Vegas oddmaker Tony Sinisi, who crunched the numbers for me, called what went down over those 23 games "the betting equal of Enron."

The good news? The 'Cats are 3-2 against the spread in 2012. Which means they really are getting better even if the actual record does not show it.


Does anybody understand the A-10 television package? The conference points out that 291 games have been or will be available this season, either on CBS Sports Network, an ESPN network (74), regional/local (69) or streaming (the rest). It all sounds good unless you want to see St. Joe's, Temple or La Salle in this market. Those games are still quite rare.

Last Saturday, all three were on the road. None of the games was televised on any local station. Temple at Richmond was on CBS SN, part of a pay sports tier on Comcast.

But you could have watched Saint Louis at Charlotte on Comcast SportsNet Saturday afternoon.


I don't have to tell any La Salle fans how long it's been since your team has been in the postseason. They know it was the 1992 NCAA Tournament when, playing its final game as a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Explorers outplayed Seton Hall for most of the game before losing at the end.

This team is a not a fluke. Some of the great players from the past are returning to see these players. Steve Black, Lionel Simmons and Bobby Johnson were at Gola Arena for the Xavier game. Some of the fans that saw them play might consider joining them.

La Salle is dead last in the A-10 attendance, even behind Fordham. The Rams have averaged 2,064 in eight games; La Salle has averaged 1,935. By the way, the Explorers are 9-0 at home.

I was there in the winter of 1989-90 when the L-Train and friends regularly sold out the Civic Center. I know how much has transpired since then, very little of it good. I also know parking at Gola is at a premium on school nights. I get that Gola is not a palace. But this is a good team. I still remember what that looks like, even when the players are wearing La Salle jerseys.


* Check out Joe Lunardi's NCAA bracket on ESPN.com. La Salle is on his "Next Four Teams Out" list, meaning if the selections were being finalized today, the Explorers would not be that far away from an at-large berth. Think about that for a moment - La Salle and NCAA in the same sentence. Hey, it's only been 20 years. At the moment, Temple is the only city team in Lunardi's bracket.

* Providentially, La Salle is at Temple tonight, the first of five scheduled meetings among the city's Atlantic 10 teams. Temple has a home-and-home with La Salle and Saint Joseph's. La Salle and St. Joe's play at the Palestra. By the way, those three were 31-11 in non-conference games, but just 5-5 so far in the balanced A-10.

It will be guards galore at Liacouras. Temple's are more experienced, La Salle's are playing with great confidence. Both teams like to play quickly. This should be fascinating.

* Temple, La Salle and St. Joe's are all in the top 50 of three-point percentage, which makes all those matchups potential shootouts from nearly 21 feet.

* Speaking of hard-to-believe, Drexel leads the Colonial in three-point shooting and free-throw shooting. I always thought if Bruiser Flint ever had a team that could shoot, it would be almost unbeatable because the Dragons' defense is always so strong. The problem, of course, is that the CAA is so tough and winning on the road is never easy - unless you are at Towson, which looks like it may never win again.

* When the season began, I felt comfortable saying the city would have two NCAA teams. I figured Temple was a lock and Drexel had a good chance. I thought Penn had a reasonable chance and I like the Quakers even more now, with the understanding that Harvard is still a strong Ivy favorite. Now La Salle is in play. Neither I nor anybody else saw that coming. St. Joe's has to start winning on the road to get into the conversation. Hard to imagine but Villanova, after seven straight NCAA appearances, is the only team clearly out at the moment - unless the Wildcats make a miracle Big East Tournament run.