With a last-ditch effort to find new investors failing, the Baltimore BayRunners will suspend play in the International Basketball League for at least the coming season.
The league released its 2000-01 schedule yesterday with the BayRunners and the San Diego Stingrays missing from last season's cast. The season opens Dec. 8 with six teams playing.
"We were hopeful we could get last-minute ownership," said IBL spokesman Mike Hardisky. "Until we get a viable owner, the BayRunners won't play."
Future baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, who already owned 10 percent of the team, had consented to purchase the remaining 90 percent from the league last spring on the contingency that additional investors were secured.
Because the league was unable to find the funding, Ripken's obligation was voided.
"Cal would have been the controlling partner under that arrangement," said John Maroon, spokesman for the Tufton Group. "But when they were unable to secure the investors, he was relieved of the agreement."
Maroon said Ripken "retains a lot of interest in pro basketball in Baltimore. He is confident it can have a future here. But venue plays a big role. He feels a smaller arena, which can hold other events, might be more viable."
The IBL remains headquartered at the World Trade Center here.
New chief executive officer Ralph Rossi Jr. said yesterday that the "decision to play with six teams was based on the overriding principle that we have strong local ownerships in each of our franchise cities. The reason we aren't going forward with Baltimore and San Diego is that we could not attract strong local ownership. Our plan is to continue moving forward with six strong teams and looking forward to expansion next year and in the future."
Rossi, chief executive officer of the investment firm Net Ten Sports, expressed optimism that the two missing franchises "can flourish again" with the correct ownership.
The IBL will play with the Cincinnati Stuff, Richmond Rhythm and Trenton Shooting Stars in the East Conference and the Las Vegas Bandits, New Mexico Slam and St. Louis Swarm in the West Conference.
It continues to face fierce competition for fans and a limited player pool because of other minor-league organizations, including the Continental Basketball Association and American Basketball Association.