No one wants to pull the plug on the Baltimore Beltway Classic, but no one seems willing to take measures necessary to keep it alive, either.
The fourth Beltway Classic -- and apparently the last in this format -- will be held this weekend at UMBC. On Friday, Loyola and Mount St. Mary's meet at 6 p.m., and two-time champion Towson State plays UMBC at 8. On Saturday, the consolation game is at 6, the championship at 8.
UMBC is the last of the four to be host to the tournament, and athletic directors from the participating schools have yet to make a final decision on its future. Increasing demands from the NCAA and assorted conferences are strikes against the Beltway Classic's continuing. Most important is the on-going search for conference stability at Towson State and UMBC.
"From our point of view, I don't know where we'll be playing next year and how many conference games we'll be playing," UMBC athletic director Charlie Brown said. "I'm not sure whether we can make a four-year commitment to keep the Beltway Classic going until that's resolved."
The Friday game between Towson State and UMBC also will serve as the opener in the East Coast Conference. Because of membership changes, that league is without a bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since it began play in 1974-75. Towson and UMBC have had discussions with the Northeast Conference, and both were visited by officials from the Big South Conference last week.
"It's possible all of this will be dealt with before the NCAA &L convention" Jan. 7-10 in Anaheim, Calif., Brown said, "but I don't think that will happen."
Towson State has told the ECC it will not return for the 1992-93 season. If UMBC stayed put, it would play only 10 ECC games. If the two went together to the Big South, then their conference schedules would swell to 18 games in a year when the NCAA is whittling Division I schedules from 27 to 26 games.
Loyola, meanwhile, has its own considerations. Members of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference are required to play at least five against foes from conferences with a power rating higher than the MAAC's. With the Metro Atlantic rising to No. 16 among the nation's 33 leagues, scheduling opportunities dwindle, and most of those games played up the power ratings ladder occur on the road.
"We're required to play people from a certain level, and that makes scheduling even more difficult," said Loyola coach Tom Schneider, who still gets UMBC and Towson State later this season at Reitz Arena.
At a media luncheon yesterday, Schneider joined Mount St. Mary's Jim Phelan, Towson State's Terry Truax and UMBC's Earl Hawkins in lauding the Beltway Classic, which routinely has drawn larger crowds than the normal conference fare. Attendance at the second Beltway Classic, at Mount St. Mary's, was hurt by inclement weather.
Towson State lost the first Beltway Classic final to UMBC, then beat Mount St. Mary's and Loyola in the championship games of the next two versions. The Tigers have gained as much as anyone from the Beltway Classic, and while Truax said "it's getting more difficult to fit these [local] games into our schedules," he and Brown also raised the possibility of a new lineup and a different look.
"If UMBC and Towson State remain in the same conference, we could hold a mixer with Coppin State and Morgan State, our conference against theirs," Truax said. "That's a way off, but I talked with [Coppin State coach] Fang Mitchell in Indianapolis at the NCAA tournament, and I talked to [Morgan State athletic director] Leonard Braxton last April about that possibility."
Heading into tonight's games, none of the Beltway Classic schools has played at home. That's one reason they're a combined 0-9. . . . Tickets are $5 each night for non-students and available at the participating schools. . . . The elbow fracture that will sideline Towson State's Devin Boyd isn't the only serious injury heading into the tournament. Mount St. Mary's point guard Dave Kapaona is out six to eight weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot, and UMBC forward Dion Andrews is out at least two weeks with a recurrence of a knee injury.