Temple cancels Big Five match-up with ‘Nova

Leslie Combs

Although the season is still more than two months away from the first tip-off, the men’s basketball program once again finds itself in the midst of conflict.

A week after the NCAA announced which Villanova athletes are suspended, and for what duration, for misuse of a University telephone access code, the scheduling conflict with Temple University was brought to the public’s attention. While the story is largely a he said/she said battle between the two Philadelphia universities’ athletic departments, the bottom line is no murky matter: the Philadelphia’s famous Big Five will be one battle short come coronation early next year.

Prior to the suspensions of 12 of Villanova’s players last March for a breach of NCAA policy, Temple and Villanova tentatively agreed to open the 2003-04 season at Temple Nov. 21. However, once the suspensions came to light, Villanova began to rethink its plan for the upcoming season. Forced to bench its seniors for the last games of the season, several underclassmen still have suspensions to serve at the beginning of this season.

With some players sitting three to eight of the first games and the Wildcats heading out west to the Maui Invitational Nov. 24-26, the basketball program began to examine schedule situations to slip in a few extra games against Division III teams prior to the prestigious Thanksgiving tournament. In this way, the ‘Cats would have a chance to have a deeper roster a game or two into the round robin.

Fitting two extra games into the schedule while accommodating flight schedules, time changes and NCAA playing rules forced Villanova to ask Temple to change the Nov. 21 date in order to fly out to the West Coast to play Claremont and Redlands College Nov. 21 and 22 before continuing on to Maui.

Maui Invitational officials went on record stating they did not force Villanova to pick up the extra games, while Villanova athletic director Vincent Nicastro told the media that the University examined various scheduling options in an attempt to keep the Temple game Nov. 21, but was unable to find a feasible solution.

When Villanova approached Temple to alter the Nov. 21 game, the Owls basketball program refused to play the ‘Cats any date other than Nov. 21, stating the date was not tentatively, but permanently marked on Temple’s calendar. Temple head coach John Chaney then took the conflict into the public eye when he stated to national media that not only would Temple not play Villanova this year unless it was on Nov. 21, but also that he might never play them again with him at the helm of the Owls.

This statement caused a stir among diehard college basketball fans not only because the heated rivalry between the two Philadelphia schools will likely not take place, but also because the lack of hardwood meeting has far greater implications in the city’s Big Five.

Started in 1954, the Big Five is composed of LaSalle, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova. Since 1999, a round robin between all five of the schools has taken place. Without the game between the Owls and the ‘Cats, the city will be unable to have a true champion.

Due to the different conferences represented in the Big Five, the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Ivy League, scheduling has always been a problem among the five universities, but in the past the schools have worked together to accommodate each other’s calendars.

“We’re all worried about what’s going on here,” Pennsylvania head coach Fran Dunphy said. “This is just an issue that revolves around a disagreement. I don’t think most people realize how hard scheduling really is. Lots of sacrifices are made by a lot of people to make this work.

“Hopefully we’ll get this resolved and Philadelphia basketball will be the winner.”

Villanova is still trying to negotiate with Temple and stresses the conflict is an ongoing process despite Chaney’s public statements. Mike Sheridan, director of media relations at Villanova, also said the scheduling situation does not directly involve the head coaches, but instead is a conflict between the two athletic departments. If settled, it will also be resolved by those departments.

Until an agreement is made, Philadelphia basketball fans should come up with their own method to crown the Big Five Champion.

The University Wire contributed to this report.