Towson State has its first eight-game winning streak as a Division I basketball team. The Tigers are solid favorites to make their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament, and with only one senior on the roster, the future should be bright for coach Terry Truax and his team.
After this March, however, that future will be blurry.
Towson State and UMBC are members of the East Coast Conference, which learned last week that it will not have an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament in 1992.
A conference must have six members to qualify for an automatic bid, and the ECC will shrink to five schools when Delaware and Drexel leave for the North Atlantic this summer. The ECC and other leagues in similar jeopardy, including the Metro Conference, appealed their plight to the NCAA.
A special committee formed at the NCAA Convention last month announced its recommendation last week, and the Division I Championships Committee is expected to rubber-stamp it in March: Conferences that don't meet continuity of membership requirements must sit out the 1992 tournament, but will get a waiver in 1993 if they're back up to six members.
Towson State athletic director Bill Hunter reserved comment on the matter until after a meeting at ECC headquarters in Bordentown, N.J., this morning. ECC commissioner John Carpenter said, "It was pretty good news for us, because it opens up the possibility of only losing our bid for one year" instead of five. But Truax wasn't as enthused.
The Towson State coach, in fact, sounded quite disturbed by the development. His team revolves around juniors Devin Boyd, Chuck Lightening and Terrance Jacobs. Unless the entire athletic department can find a new conference to play in, the basketball team's only way into the 1992 tournament would be with an at-large bid.
"I assume it's too late to play somewhere else [another conference] next year," Truax said. "As things stand now, the conference will lose its bid for a year, and to me, that's not acceptable. Our basketball program has earned credibility and respect, and not to be [in a conference that's] eligible for the NCAAs would have a deleterious effect.
"When we recruit, we stress Towson State's great academic reputation, but we're losing another effective recruiting vehicle."
Truax said the Towson State administration should have been more aggressive in finding another conference after the ECC began to dwindle. Bucknell, Lafayette and Lehigh left after the 1989-90 school year, during which Delaware and Drexel announced their plans to go to the North Atlantic.
Towson State applied and was turned down for membership in the Colonial Athletic Association. A reliable source said that Towson State received a formal invitation to join the North Atlantic last year, but Hunter has said that he has only had DTC ongoing talks with that conference.
Added travel costs to New England would be the major stumbling block in a shift to the North Atlantic, which currently consists of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Boston University and Hartford.
The ECC's automatic bid to the NCAA baseball tournament also is in jeopardy. Towson State won the conference in 1988, and both the Tigers and UMBC are expected to challenge this spring.