If ever the local college basketball scene could produce a weekend of top-flight action and connect the local sports community at the same time, it’s now.
The Baltimore-based programs – UMBC, Towson, Loyola, Morgan St. and Coppin St. – are all humming along nicely and appear to be on the upswing both in terms of play on the court and enthusiasm in the stands.
Who knows what lies ahead for those five schools in the ’09-10 campaign…the season isn’t even two weeks old. So it seems odd to start talking about NEXT season when THIS season is still wearing diapers.
But this time next year, if the schools play their cards right, perhaps the time would be right to re-introduce the “Battle of Baltimore” to Charm City’s sports scene.
The “Battle” was held as recently as the late 1990′s. It was aired on local TV and pitted the local schools against one another in an early season weekend. For a variety of reasons, the tournament was put to rest and hasn’t been renewed in this decade.
That’s not good.
And the local schools now need to do anything and everything under their power to bring the Battle back to Baltimore.
It’s a tad complicated because Morgan State and Coppin State can’t play in the same year, as their MEAC rules do not permit them to play one another in the regular season other than in conference play. Fair enough, one of them will play and one will sit out on an alternating basis if the “Battle” is reborn.
There’s no reason why Loyola, Towson, UMBC and Coppin St/Morgan St can’t make this happen.
If it’s an issue of losing a home game, figure out a solution. If it’s a money issue, figure out a solution.
The people who should really sit down and make the event happen are the Athletic Directors at the various schools. While the coaches are always mainly interested in winning first and promoting the sport second (and, in all fairness, that’s how every coach thinks in every sport), Athletic Directors are often times able to see the big picture.
In this case, in Baltimore, right now, the time is right to unite these schools for a weekend of games.
One other possible solution would be to bring in a couple of Top 25 teams to make up a portion of the “Battle”. Already this year, UMBC has hosted Morgan State and Loyola. Loyola also hosts Morgan State in December. In other words, these local schools are already playing one another. Let’s move those games into the “Battle” next year. Maybe Towson can schedule a 3-game series with a Big East team — one game in Baltimore, two at the home venue of the Big East school. Perhaps Coppin State could do the same thing with an ACC school like Virginia or Virginia Tech.
So, next year, UMBC, Morgan State and Loyola will play one another in “The Battle” and maybe Towson can host Pittsburgh or Georgetown. Coppin State could host one of the Virginia schools. There are literally thousands of UVA and VA Tech grads in the Baltimore area. Those games and that entire weekend of basketball would be a huge draw.
Where to play it? At the local venues, of course. UMBC and Towson both host roughly 4,000 people. If the thing really takes off, we can talk about moving it downtown to the “big building” with its 12,500 seating capacity.
Let’s walk first. Then crawl later.
The “Battle” concept is endorsed by Towson Athletic Director Mike Hermann. “One of the strengths of college basketball in Baltimore is the number of Division I teams in the market. By working together, we can enhance the college basketball experience and brand in our community. The Battle of Baltimore is one strategy. I also believe there would be value in exploring a classic series that would allow the local teams to host national competition in a doubleheader format. In either case, commitment to the event and strong community and corporate support would be necessary ingredients for the event to be successful.”
If Hermann and the other Athletic Directors want their basketball programs to gain momentum into the next decade, they need to sit down over lunch, put aside their respective program’s strengths and weaknesses, and make the “Battle” happen for the common good of college basketball in our city.
A well-run, well-marketed, well-played “Battle” could be just what Baltimore’s basketball scene needs to rival the great heritage of college hoops in places like New York and Philadelphia.
We have the “Big Five” here in Baltimore…just like they have in the City of Brotherly Love. Our Big Five just need to all work together and bring back the “Battle” in 2010.