he University of Massachusetts is out of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic picture, if ever the Minutemen were in it.
UMass has scheduled a men's basketball game at Marquette, probably to be played Dec. 23, to fill its 2000-2001 schedule. The Marquette game was booked this week, just as Tip-Off Classic officials began inquiring about the Minutemen's availability for a Tip-Off game that is now in jeopardy of being suspended for one year.
Tennessee has informed Tip-Off officials that it will not play in the event, spoiling a proposed Nov. 24 matchup against North Carolina State. The Volunteers are expected to be one of the nation's best teams next season, and their decision threatens to force cancellation of the 2000 game at the Springfield Civic Center, since most teams have already filled their schedules.
UMass had been interested in returning to the Tip-Off, where the Minutemen routed Arkansas 104-80 in 1994. But unlike that season, UMass is no longer a nationally-ranked team, and Tip-Off officials have been divided on the issue of whether a game involving UMass would be attractive nationally, as the Tip-Off Classic has traditionally been.
However, adding UMass had been viewed as an alternative to cancelling the game entirely, and some Tip-Off committee members reportedly feel that even if a game with the Minutemen gave the event a more regional flavor, it was better than having it "go dark" for a year.
The delays in Tip-Off scheduling, however, forced UMass to look elsewhere to fill its schedule. And the perception that UMass offered second-class status to the event, and might be acceptable only as a last-minute solution, did not sit well with coach Bruiser Flint, even though he kept open the option of playing.
Tip-Off officials are scrambling to find a team to replace Tennessee, while hoping that North Carolina State, which has not yet signed a contract, will remain in the fold. A decision on whether to suspend the game for a year is expected within two weeks.
Tip-Off officials insist they will be back with a game in 2001, even if this year's event must be scratched.
Complications have arisen this year not only with the teams, but with the television schedule. It is uncertain whether ESPN will broadcast a Tip-Off game this year, even if two teams can be found that agree to play in it.
UMass has lined up another challenging non-conference schedule that features road games at Marquette and Ohio State, a game against Oregon in Portland, Ore., and the annual clash against Connecticut. This year's game against UConn will be played in Hartford.
The Minutemen will also play in the Food Lion Classic in Charlotte, N.C., with a field that includes North Carolina, College of Charleston and probably Tulsa.