Can a women's professional basketball team make it in Baltimore?

"Absolutely," said Brenda Frese, coach of the University of Maryland women's basketball team.

"Won't happen," said John Moag, former Maryland Stadium Authority chairman.

Frese and Moag represent divergent opinions in the wake of Thursday's announcement by Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon that the WNBA has told her a franchise could settle here if the city builds an arena.

Get in line, Baltimore.

"I'm really encouraged by all of the cities we are currently engaged with that really have serious interest in the WNBA," league president Donna Orender told ESPN on Thursday night.

"It's an unbelievable growing business that has such appeal for families, young women and our youth - and so we're going to continue to grow."

The 12-year-old league has 14 teams, most of them in cities that also have NBA clubs. This season, the WNBA added Atlanta and is said to be considering San Francisco, Albuquerque, N.M., and Denver for future growth.

League officials declined to comment yesterday on Dixon's announcement that she has engaged in talks with the WNBA about the city's bid for a team, once Baltimore replaces 1st Mariner Arena, now 46 years old.

"We have nothing to add to the story at this point," said Ron Howard, a league spokesman.

Frese, for one, believes the city could support a WNBA franchise despite the draw of another team, the Washington Mystics, 40 miles away.

"We definitely could cultivate both teams," Frese said. "The population numbers speak for themselves. There's no hesitation in my mind that it would work. It's quite a drive for Baltimore fans to drive to D.C. to see the Mystics. Also, every time [Maryland women] play at Loyola College, we sell out.

"There are tons of basketball fans up there; plus, a Baltimore team would draw from New Jersey and Philadelphia."

Moag, who owns a Baltimore-based sports finance firm, disagrees.

"The market probably can't support another team," he said. "There's no arena. And the NBA is not likely to support [a franchise here] in light of the six pro teams already located within 40 miles of each other."

Moag was, from 1995 to 1998, the head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which last year recommended that the 14,000-seat 1st Mariner Arena - once home to the NBA's Baltimore Bullets - be demolished and replaced with a 16,000-seat facility.

An arena of that size could lure arena football and minor-league hockey, as well as the WNBA, whose attendance last year averaged about 7,800 per game.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com