One of sports' most lopsided “rivalries” takes place this Friday, Dec. 3, in a posh suburb of Philadelphia. Saint Joseph’s (PA) vs. Villanova—aka "The Holy War."
One school, Villanova, is an elite program that plays most of its games on national television and expects to be playing beyond the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, as it boasts a national championship and multiple Final Four appearances.
The other, Saint Joseph’s, is a small regional program that has had little success, little exposure and is known more for celebrating moral victories than March wins.
The Holy War is bigger than the Super Bowl for Saint Joseph’s fans. No doubt some Saint Joseph’s students grow up dreaming of attending Villanova, and, after their applications for admission are rejected, they turn to hating Villanova and dream of moral victories against their powerful rival.
Saint Joseph’s fans must live with their inferiority complex all year round. In a recent Saint Joseph’s game against Penn, the Quakers student section broke out in a “Nova Rejects” chant that reminded all Saint Joseph’s fans in the house why they ended up at Saint Joseph’s.
Villanova fans view the Holy War as nothing more than a charity event or an annoying ritual that clogs up their schedule. Unlike Saint Joseph’s, most Villanova students are not from the immediate Philadelphia area, so they have never heard of Saint Joseph’s until their first experience with the Holy War.
Several years ago, Villanova was trying to schedule Duke for a December game as a Philadelphia homecoming for Duke power forward Gerald Henderson. The only date that worked for Duke was the same day that the Wildcats were to play the Hawks. Saint Joseph’s refused to move the date of the game, and Villanova essentially traded a home game against Duke for a game against Saint Joseph’s. Ouch.
On the court, the results are not surprising. Villanova has won 28 of the last 40 meetings between the two schools.
Phil Martelli is on the hot seat at Saint Joseph’s (see here). One of the many reasons Martelli is feeling the pressure from Saint Joseph’s alumni and fans is his horrible record against Villanova. Martelli has been coaching the Hawks since 1995. He has been dominated by Villanova, posting only three wins to 10 losses and a losing percentage of .769. Not quite as pathetic as his school's 80 percent application acceptance rate, but still pathetic.
After a recent loss to the Wildcats, Martelli admitted how wide the gap was between the Villanova and Saint Joseph’s basketball programs, sparking the anger of many Hawks fans. Martelli, however, was only speaking the truth.
Saint Joseph’s has made the NCAA Tournament 18 times in school history. Not a bad number, but not good considering Villanova has 18 Sweet 16 appearances and a dozen Elite Eights. Villanova ranks in the top 10 all time in NCAA tournament appearances and NCAA tournament wins. Saint Joseph’s does not.
Jameer Nelson was good, leading Saint Joseph’s to an Elite Eight. But when Jameer’s time for greatness arrived, he barely drew iron as his last-second shot failed to drop and Oklahoma State advanced to the Final Four.
Scottie Reynolds, on the other hand, was great. Reynolds hit his shot against Pitt in the 2009 Elite Eight to lead Villanova to the Final Four and help secure his title of greatest Philadelphia college basketball player of the past 25 years.
Villanova routinely sells out Philadelphia’s 20,000-seat NBA arena as big-name schools from across the country such as Texas, Kansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, Memphis, North Carolina, Maryland and a slate of Big East powers travel many miles for the privilege of taking on Philadelphia’s finest.
Saint Joseph’s struggles to fill their tiny 4,000-seat Hagan Arena as teams such as Holy Cross, Boston University, Rider and a slate of Ivy League schools travel to Philadelphia for a potential win against an Atlantic 10 lightweight.
Villanova’s 2009 run to the Final Four included a very cruel joke for all for Saint Joseph’s fans. Saint Joseph’s was a sub-regional NCAA tournament host. Hagan Arena and its 4,000-seat capacity was obviously unacceptable, so Saint Joseph’s borrowed Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center from Villanova. Villanova took advantage of this situation by limiting their Wachovia Center games for the season, thus remaining eligible for placement at this sub-regional site.
While Martelli and Saint Joseph’s fans sat at home in March of 2009, they were able to watch Villanova take care of American University by double-digits and dismantle UCLA on the way to the Final Four. Villanova did this playing on a court with Saint Joseph’s logo.
Saint Joseph's athletic director, Don DiJulia, called the rivalry the "Army-Navy of basketball." Dan Quarterman, a long-time Nova fan, compared the rivalry to a dog taking a dump on a lawn.
This year's Holy War will be televised on ESPNU. Tune in to witness some history, a likely Villanova win and a chance for Saint Joseph's fans to celebrate another moral victory.
TJ Corbs—tackling the hard-hitting issues of the Northeast Corridor.