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Annual Big 5 doubleheaders could return to Palestra

The Philadelphia Daily News has learned that Steve Bilsky, the executive director of the Big 5, is working to make it happen.

IF SOME DETAILS can be worked out and all the Big 5 schools are satisfied, the Daily News has learned that an annual City Series doubleheader at the Palestra could begin a 5-year run as soon as next season, the Big 5's 60th anniversary. Steve Bilsky, the executive director of the Big 5 since retiring as Penn athletic director last year, confirmed that the doubleheader concept is very much possible.

"Each of the schools [other than Penn] would move a minimal number of home games to the Palestra over the 5-year cycle," Bilsky said. "I've tried to work the schedule so that no one school is unfairly impacted and that Big 5 games still have a presence on each school's campus.

"Presently, Penn and Saint Joseph's play their Big 5 game in the Palestra, La Salle and Temple have played their game at the Palestra the last 2 years. St. Joe's and La Salle play each other twice a year. So this gives us some good flexibility. While the schedule might not impact each school identically, I think it is fair, especially in light of what the fans in the city and the Big 5 stand to gain."

Each of the schools would play in the doubleheader in 4 of the 5 years, with one sitting out each year.

"Just trying to get the guys to value the Big 5 for its uniqueness and recognize if we don't start doing something now, then the generation of people who really remember will be gone and those who somewhat remember it will be moving on," Bilsky said. "We are trying to create some things that are sellable to the schools that recognize the reality of what you can do and what you can't do. The response has been very favorable."

There is no sense in rehashing why the Big 5 broke up for a time and then was made whole again. No sense in asking why the City Six tripleheader, which was so well received, just quietly disappeared.

What everybody can agree is that a Big 5 game at the Palestra is different and it's better. The fans love it and the players love it.

"You put a game in the Palestra and you ask the kids afterward how they like it and they say it was one of the greatest things ever," Bilsky said. "That has never changed with all the politics."

Consider this season. Just three of the 10 City Series games were played at the Palestra. None of them was an especially appealing matchup with any real buildup or promotion.

La Salle-Temple on Dec. 6 at noon drew 7,445 fans. Penn-Villanova on Jan. 17 got the magical 8,722. Saint Joseph's-Penn on Jan. 24 drew 8,538.

Penn-Temple at Liacouras on Nov. 25 drew 4,292. Penn at La Salle drew only 2,273. La Salle-SJU got just 2,449 to Gola on Jan. 27. Villanova sells out every home game. SJU always sells out Big 5 games on campus.

La Salle coach John Giannini, a Chicago native and the only non-Philadelphian among the Big 5 coaches, is on record as saying he would like to see all the Big 5 games played at the Palestra. That is almost certainly not going happen, but the proposed doubleheader is a giant step in the right direction.

Bilsky envisions a "Big 5 Week" with a banquet the night before, an alumni game, students from the schools playing against each other, sponsorships and television. He has done financial projections and pricing that he thinks will work for all the schools. His numbers are based on a sellout, which is a guarantee.

"I want to make this an event," Bilsky said.

And he wants to make it an event where each of the schools is at least held financially harmless.

"As far as the finances, it is hoped that ticket sales for a sellout would at least make the schools whole financially compared to the present situation and with sponsorship and other revenue possibilities, provide a nice profit for each of the schools," Bilsky said.

Bilsky also said the proposal he has made "tried to eliminate what I knew were the dead-end issues, things that in the past have prevented it from going anywhere. I really worked hard to figure out what the schedule would look like, who would play whom, what rivalries wouldn't be impacted, etc."

Bottom line, Bilsky said, "we all want the Big 5 to have a future and I think everyone recognizes that the more time that passes without a signature event, fewer and fewer people will remember that a doubleheader really is exciting for the city."

The schools, Bilsky said, "are working hard to make it happen. They're not against this. They understand the Big 5. They understand the need to do some signature type of event. They all understand that. They just want to make sure it's in their institutional best interest to do it, and I think that's fair."

This and that

* I am not sold on Duke's defense, but I am sold that this team is much different than some of its immediate predecessors, including the group that lost to Mercer and Lehigh in NCAA Tournament games. No team wins at Wisconsin, Louisville and Virginia in the same season without being a serious contender to play in April.

* Really sad news from Richmond when it was revealed that the college career of VCU's Briante Weber is over after he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in Saturday night's upset loss to Richmond. Weber was closing fast on the NCAA steals record. His team had won 14 straight. Weber was hurt with 3:17 left and his team trailing by nine points. The Rams probably were not going to come back in the game as the Spiders had been playing really well. How they come back from this devastating injury is a bigger-picture question.

* Drexel redshirt junior Damion Lee is having a great season under any circumstance, but when you consider his season began just less than a year after ACL surgery, it is all quite amazing. He is now fourth nationally in scoring (21.7 points). He is in the CAA's top 10 in scoring, rebounding, steals, field-goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three-point percentage. In 10 CAA games, he is averaging 23.9 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 91 percent from the foul line. And everybody knows that on most days and nights, he is Drexel's offense.