With 8 in state taking plunge, UB was first to drown in Division I pool


From 1978 to '88, eight Maryland colleges upgraded their athletic programs to Division I status. The first was the University of Baltimore, which five years later had abandoned its athletic program entirely.

Frank Szymanski, now the women's basketball coach at Loyola, was the athletic director when Baltimore decided to leave the Mason-Dixon Conference and enter Division I in 1978.

"We went from being a private, four-year school to being a public, upper division [two-year] school," Szymanski said. "We were recruiting exclusively on the junior college level, and in order to make our schedules attractive enough to get student-athletes, we had to upgrade to Division I."

Members of the Mason-Dixon Conference in 1976 were Baltimore, Loyola, Towson State, UMBC, Mount St. Mary's, George Mason, Catholic and Salisbury State. Szymanski wanted to keep the Mason-Dixon intact, but instead started its downfall.

"I felt the Mason-Dixon Conference was on the brink of falling apart. We proposed taking the entire conference into Division I, but some people couldn't see the logic in that. Every one of us struggled when we went Division I on our own."

According to Szymanski, Baltimore was the only upper-level institution playing Division I sports in the nation, one reason it dropped its athletic program.

Baltimore dropped sports after the 1982-83 school year. At the time, it was a member of the ECAC Metro Conference, which has evolved into the Northeast Conference. One of its current members is Mount St. Mary's, which in 1988 completed the exodus of the old Mason-Dixon members into Division I.

When the Mount moved to Division I, basketball coach and then athletic director Jim Phelan said the available competition in Division II had dwindled. Coppin State's Ron DeSouza said the Eagles moved in 1985 for the same reason.

"We moved from the NAIA to the NCAA [in 1983] because people looked down on us," DeSouza said. "Then, when we were in Division II, there just weren't enough people in the region left to play."

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