Conferences light, cloud opening tip

There has been a visible reversal of fortune among the state's Division I basketball teams since last March. Two programs that were on solid footing a year ago find themselves scrambling to solidify their futures, and six are encouraged by fewer roadblocks in their path.

Practice officially begins tomorrow, and as has often been the case for local colleges in recent years, notable offseason developments haven't been restricted to recruiting.


On the plus side:

* Maryland still can't go to the NCAA tournament, but at least the Terps' games can be televised live and they will be allowed to play in the ACC tournament this season.


* Navy has left the Colonial Athletic Association for the Patriot League, where the Middies' available talent should find clearer sailing. Coach Pete Herrmann also is excited by a plebe class that includes four players 6-foot-5 or taller, all of whom fit in with his up-tempo style.

* Mount St. Mary's is in its fourth year in Division I, and having completed its probationary status, will finally be eligible to represent the Northeast Conference in the NCAA tournament. Looking ahead to this season, the Mount red-shirted some injured players, including star guard Kevin Booth, in 1990-91.

* The Northeast Conference and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which includes rebuilding Coppin State, Morgan State and Maryland-Eastern Shore, won't have to worry about the additional burden of "play-in" games just to gain a spot in the 64-team NCAA tournament.

The Division I basketball committee awards automatic bids to only 30 conferences. Last year 33 conferences met the requirements, so the champions of the six lowest-rated leagues met in a preliminary, or "play-in" round.

Which leads us to the minus side:

* If Towson State is to make its third straight trip to the NCAA tournament, it will have to do so as an at-large team.

The East Coast Conference, along with the Metro and Great Atlantic, did not meet the required continuity of membership requirements -- and thus no longer qualifies for an automatic bid to the NCAAs.

The Tigers will continue their quest to become the first three-time champions in ECC history, behind the senior triumvirate of Devin Boyd, Chuck Lightening and Terrance Jacobs. But their offseason was dominated by conference woes and coach Terry Truax's job hunting.


* As a member, UMBC also is affected by the ECC's situation. With its current membership, the conference won't regain an automatic bid until 1996. Commissioner John Carpenter is seeking a merger with another conference, but athletic directors Bill Hunter (Towson) and Charlie Brown (UMBC) are also working on their own to put their colleges in position to go to the 1993 tournament.

Towson State thought it had found a haven in the North Atlantic Conference, but that conference decided last spring not to expand. Last month Towson State formally told the ECC it won't be back for 1992-93, but at the moment the Tigers don't have anywhere to go and could return if their interest in other conferences isn't returned.

Hunter wouldn't elaborate last week, but in the past the Tigers have made unfulfilled overtures to the Colonial AA and Atlantic 10. Atlantic 10 commissioner Ron Bertovich said "membership is on the top of our agenda at a coming meeting," and that both Towson State and UMBC have expressed interest in joining a conference that this year lost Penn State.

"They are among seven or eight schools who have inquired about joining the Atlantic 10," Bertovich said. "We're staying with the nine schools we have right now, but it doesn't hurt to listen. If we are going to add a school, it's going to be a quality institution. Also, it's one thing to be in a large [TV] market, and it's another to deliver it."

UMBC is in its second year in the ECC, and Brown laments entering the ECC when the Retrievers could have joined Mount St. Mary's in the Northeast or gone to the Big South Conference.

"We've stayed in contact with the Big South," Brown said. "I feel confident that wherever we are next year, we'll be in a conference with an automatic bid."


The 8-year-old Big South Conference, with members in Virginia (Liberty and Radford), North Carolina (UNC-Asheville and Campbell) and South Carolina (Coastal Carolina, Charleston Southern and Winthrop), is agreeable to expanding into Maryland, and there have also been talks of merging with the ECC.

Big South publicity director Tom Collins said a merger with the ECC "is not a preferred course of action, but it is a possibility."

* Loyola is the lone state Division I men's team maintaining the status quo, but even the Greyhounds' membership in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference could be short-lived. Athletic director Joe Boylan began having talks with the Midwest Collegiate Conference in August, and the Greyhounds have been invited to join that league.

The Greyhounds improved from 4-24 to 12-16 last season, and they could be much improved again, thanks to the addition of 6-8 sophomore Michael Reese, a transfer from Boston College.