February is an exciting time for college basketball. Conference play is well underway. Rivalry games are taking place. And while Georgetown vs. St. John’s in Madison Square Garden and Maryland vs. Wisconsin are sure to be exciting games, February will also mark the end of another season without a great local basketball rivalry.
I first proposed a Ward 2 Championship (Georgetown vs. George Washington at the Verizon Center) in 2006, then wrote about the benefits of a regional basketball rivalry – like the Philadelphia Big 5 of Penn, Temple, St. Joseph’s, LaSalle and Villanova – in a Washington Post column a year later.
Nine years later? Still no D.C. Big 5.
To be sure, the recent addition of George Mason to the Atlantic 10 Conference and annual games with George Washington have begun to bring our local schools together, but Georgetown, Maryland, American and Howard are still out of the picture. Think about it: We have the makings of an even greater Big 6.
I believe we’re missing the opportunity to unite our region through our shared love of college basketball. In Philadelphia, the entire city comes together on one Saturday in December to support their teams and play for bragging rights for the entire year. Sports have a powerful way of uniting people and communities.
John Feinstein wrote a Washington Post column in December about bringing our local teams together for a D.C. series. He highlighted some of the history that ended the Georgetown-Maryland annual challenge in 1979, and explained how the Philadelphia teams overcame scheduling problems in the 1980s to keep the Big 5 going. Despite the challenges, his message was clear: Just Play.
We saw regional interest from individuals connected to all our local universities in a D.C. 2024 Olympic Bid. While that bid was unsuccessful, those leaders should use the bonds of community and sports that brought them together to encourage the universities to commit to a regional basketball tournament – perhaps through a modified BB&T Classic.
As conference realignment and television contracts make college basketball an increasingly national competition, now is the time for our local institutions to come together and create a D.C. Big 6 tournament for seasons to come.
Jack Evans is the Ward 2 Councilmember, representing Georgetown since 1991.