THE THIRD ANNUAL Beltway Classic basketball tournament at the Towson Center tonight and tomorrow night offers a rare treat: wide-open competition between four local colleges -- Towson State, Mount St. Mary's, UMBC and Loyola.
The pity is that after next year's event (to be held at UMBC) the tournament probably will go out of existence. Not that anyone is unhappy with it as it is. It's just that scheduling difficulties, with the four schools in three different conferences, are making it impossible for them to get together.
What we need is more competition between these natural rivals, not less. Loyola and Mount St. Mary's are in different leagues and wouldn't meet at all this year if it weren't for their 6:30 game tonight. They should be playing twice every season, home and home, both on Saturday nights. Nothing excites Loyola and Mount followers like meetings between the two. For sheer competition and interest, today's conference alignments can't compare with the old Mason-Dixon Conference.
Loyola is the most improved team in the tournament, as its win over George Washington and close call (75-68) at La Salle Wednesday night showed. Everyone knew the Greyhounds had good shooters in Kevin Green and Tracy Bergan. What no one knew was that Mike Wagner, a 6-foot-11 senior, would come forth to lead the inside game after languishing on the bench for three years. Coach Tom Schneider says Wagner got to play on the trip to Scandinavia this fall and gained confidence. He makes a big difference.
Towson coach Terry Truax, whose Tigers won this tournament last year when it was played at Emmitsburg, sums up the balance in the field well: "The other three schools are improved and we're not improved." The star of last year's Towson NCAA tournament team, Kurk Lee, is with the New Jersey Nets in the NBA.
Jim Phelan, in his 37th year coaching at Mount St. Mary's, knows there are three parts to basketball -- offense, defense and transition -- and his team is deficient in at least one of them. "We're averaging 95 points a game," says Phelan. "Unfortunately our opponents are averaging 105."
* Cleveland has literally been a disaster this NFL year. Zeke Bratkowski, who coached the Colts in Baltimore under Ted Marchibroda and is now a Browns' assistant, lost his son Steve, 30, in a boating accident. All of us who knew Zeke here know he's one heck of a nice guy.
* Speaking of the old Colts, can it really be 25 years this month since Gary Cuozzo, subbing for John Unitas, threw five TD passes in a 41-21 win over the Vikings? It has been. Cuozzo, incidentally, lost his son in a tragedy during the summer.
* Look for The Rocket, Raghib Ismail, to become the eighth Notre Damer to win the Heisman Trophy when the winner is announced on CBS-TV live tomorrow starting at 6:30 p.m. Being from Notre Dame helps. Being as outstanding as The Rocket helps even more.
NFL scouts are said to be leery of another top Heisman candidate, Colorado's Eric Bieniemy, because he's only 5 feet 7. That's just about the height of the Giants' Dave Meggett and he's a sensation in the NFL.
Speaking of the Heisman, you hear people say Doug Flutie won it in '84 because of one Hail Mary pass against Miami. Wrong. The vote was in before the Hail Mary pass. Also, Flutie finished third in the voting in '83 behind Mike Rozier and Steve Young. Flutie's old Boston College coach, Jack Bicknell, found out the hard way how good Flutie was. Bicknell couldn't win without him and was fired this week.
* Whenever I see that the Ladies' PGA has hired a new commissioner, as it did this week in Charles S. Meecham Jr., I feel sorry for the guy. The women golfers cannot accept the vast discrepancy between their purses and the men's. For that reason, they've run off some good commissioners going back to Lenny Wirtz (the ACC basketball ref) and Bud Erickson. Ousted Bill Blue lasted 21 1/2 months. There's no reason to think Meecham will last any longer.