At the moment, Towson State's future doesn't include playing in a conference that has an automatic basketball bid to the NCAA tournament in 1992. That could change, however, if the university switches from the East Coast Conference to the North Atlantic, a move it has studied.
Stuart Haskell, commissioner of the North Atlantic Conference, said it would be "a long shot" for another new member to be incorporated into the league for the 1991-92 school year. But the athletic directors at two member schools said they could fit Towson State into next season's basketball schedule.
"They're serious," Towson State athletic director Bill Hunter said when asked if the North Atlantic wanted Towson State to join. "It's up to our people. It's Hoke's [Dr. Hoke L. Smith, TSU president] call."
The North Atlantic Conference, founded in 1979, consists of Boston University, Hartford, Maine, New Hampshire, Northeastern and Vermont. Delaware and Drexel will be moving from the ECC to the North Atlantic in September, bringing it to eight members while the ECC shrinks to five, one below the minimum needed to retain its automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament.
If Towson State did switch to the North Atlantic, it could represent the conference in the NCAA national tournament in 1991-92. "Conferences have to apply to us each year, usually sometime in May," said Jim Marchiony, NCAA Director of Communications. "As long as a school is listed as a member for the coming year then and meets any other applicable criteria, it can represent the conference in an NCAA tournament."
Hunter said the North Atlantic is an attractive league. "Four of its schools are the primary institution in their state [Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont], and the others are also elite schools," Hunter said.
Haskell, the North Atlantic commissioner, said Towson State would fit in well.
"I like Towson State's administration, the facilities, the location and the fact they have a broad-based program," Haskell said. "That's my own personal opinion, and I don't want to give anyone false hope. It's up to the board of directors, and that would be the eight athletic directors."
Two of those ADs would welcome Towson State. Delaware's Edgar Johnson said the Blue Hens have had "a very good relationship" with the Tigers in the ECC. Northeastern began playing Towson State in football in 1987, and its athletic director, Irwin Cohen, also sounded receptive to the Tigers.
"We've talked about it [expansion]," Cohen said. "I had never heard of Towson State before we began our football series. I was reluctant then, but I must say I've been pleasantly surprised. Their facilities are outstanding and Bill Hunter's a great guy."
But the news isn't all positive. Joining the North Atlantic would mean added travel costs, no small consideration for the Towson State administration. Last fall the school considered dropping football as a means of eliminating an ongoing athletic department deficit that is expected to reach $257,000.
Since moving to Division I in 1979, Towson State has never had to fly to a conference contest. It was a factor Delaware considered before it made the decision to switch conferences.
"Not including football, we'll spend about $200,000 on travel this year," Delaware's Johnson said. "Next year, we'll have to spend an additional $250,000. It's more expensive to fly than take a bus. It's worth it. The North Atlantic is a quality league, and they go about athletics the right way."
Haskell said any trips to New England would come on weekends, minimizing missed class time.
"All of our conference games are scheduled on weekends," Haskell said. "Members can change that if they want to. It's not that bad. Our members are used to travel. The nearest Division I school to Maine is New Hampshire, and that's a 450-mile round trip."
Haskell said the North Atlantic plans to sponsor 1991-92 championships in 20 sports, 10 for men and 10 for women, more than any other league in the East. The North Atlantic champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in men's basketball and soccer, and in women's field hockey.
Haskell said he expects that baseball will receive the same in 1992.
Maine has traditionally had one of the premier baseball teams in the East. Vermont went to the NCAA quarterfinals in soccer in 1989, Boston University and New Hampshire recently reached the NCAA Division I-AA tournament in football, and Hartford has one of the top golf programs in the East.
Northeastern's recent basketball success has been fueled by Baltimoreans like Reggie Lewis, now a member of the Boston Celtics.