Curtain coming down on Battle of Baltimore

With TV's exit, schools cancel after this weekend

College Basketball

November 20, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

After this weekend, the latest attempt to inject excitement into local college basketball will be history.

Citing a lack of interest from television carrier WMAR, coaches and administrators expect this to be the final Battle of Baltimore. The event will tip off tonight at Towson Center with games between UMBC and Loyola, and between Coppin State and Towson.

In August, athletic directors from the five schools involved - including Morgan State - were told that WMAR would curtail its involvement in the tournament after this season, despite reaching a four-year agreement after the 2001 event.

As a descendant of the Baltimore Metro tip-off classics of the 1970s, the current event was driven by television exposure. Without the chance to market their programs to local audiences and possible recruits, the event was less attractive to the schools.

"It's disappointing because I feel it was good for the five schools in Baltimore," Towson athletic director Wayne Edwards said. "We would have definitely have continued it. But when the television opportunity went away, we felt it would be better to go in another direction."

Actually, the schools considered this possibility when WMAR approached them about the event in 1997, citing it as a factor in their reluctance to hold another tournament amongst themselves, former WMAR general manager Steve Gillotti told The Sun in 1997.

"They told me: `We're afraid. Every time we go down this road, when it doesn't work out, the TV stations drop us.' "

But encouraged by good ratings for a Towson-Michigan game that year, the station approached the schools, hoping to create something similar to what Philadelphia's Big Five colleges have, offering prime-time viewing slots during November sweeps.

The initial arrangement ended after the 2001 event, and general manager Drew Berry extended it to 2005 at that point, with the local effort similar to the station's package for lacrosse games.

It is unclear what, if any, the decision to drop the Battle of Baltimore coverage will mean for college lacrosse, with station manager Michael Draman declining to elaborate.

"That's a business decision that would have internal information that I'm not at liberty to discuss," Draman said.

The station offered the schools two options: WMAR would televise only the tournament's championship game through 2005, or the arrangement would end Saturday night after the televising of both first-round games and the title game.

Certain that WMAR was stepping away after 2005, the athletic directors voted for the latter, with Coppin State athletic director and men's coach Fang Mitchell abstaining. "It wasn't what I bought into in the first place," he said, referring to his choices.

Mitchell expects that other schools will schedule games amongst themselves despite the tournament's demise. The change will affect Mitchell less, as much of his recruiting base is in Philadelphia.

More importantly, he estimated that his program lost $100,000 in guarantees for games that he passed on in lieu of the two games his program will play this weekend.

Battle facts

What: Battle of Baltimore

Site: Towson Center, Towson

Game 1: UMBC (0-0) vs. Loyola (0-0), 7 p.m. tomorrow

Game 2: Coppin State (1-2) vs. Towson (0-0), 9:30 p.m. tomorrow

Consolation: 5:30 p.m. Saturday

Final: 8 p.m. Saturday

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