Towson State applied for membership in the New England-based North Atlantic Conference yesterday, taking the first step toward assuring that its basketball team has a chance to compete in next year's National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
Should Towson leave the East Coast Conference, the remaining four teams -- including the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a first-year member -- might be forced to scramble to find other leagues.
"We have made our pitch, and now it's up to them," Towson athletic director Bill Hunter said. "We have made the pitch with the idea of membership for the upcoming year."
Even if Towson is accepted into the North Atlantic, commissioner Stuart Haskell said, the school would not be assured of being on the 1991-92 schedule -- thus denying the Tigers a chance to earn an NCAA berth through a conference tournament.
"Anything is possible, but I would say getting them on next year's schedule is a long shot," Haskell said. "I know at least a couple of our schools have filled out their schedules, and the others are fairly close. But that's not to say it's impossible."
Towson's application to the North Atlantic comes at a time when the ECC is in jeopardy of losing its automatic bid to next year's tournament.
Next season's departure of current ECC schools Delaware and Drexel -- set to join the North Atlantic -- would drop the league one team below the six needed to gain an automatic bid.
Even if the ECC adds a team, the league would lose its automatic bid for one year, but possibly would regain it in 1992 should Towson, Hofstra and Rider remain. But if one of the three, who were ECC members before the NCAA's waiver of some expansion requirements in 1989, leaves the league, the ECC would have to wait five years to regain its automatic bid.
Towson's possible move seemed to upset UMBC athletic director Charles Brown, whose team was an independent for four years before joining the ECC.
"Conference affiliation is a key, and I feel very sad for our athletes who have waited so long to get into the East Coast Conference," Brown said. "We turned down other leagues to get in, and now the people who recruited us leave. It's very disappointing."
Brown said a move by Towson would leave his school scrambling.
"We have to move quickly," he said. "My mind is racing about who we should call and what we should do. There have been two other conferences who have contacted us, but we haven't really followed up on that yet because we wanted to see what would happen with our league."
After the North Atlantic receives Towson's application, members of its executive committee will be invited to tour the campus and athletic facilities. That visit probably won't take place until late March.
"After we're invited down, we'll try to spend a solid day meeting with coaches and others, and touring the campus," Haskell said. "We'll then return home and make a report to the full board."
The membership of the North Atlantic Conference (with each team's overall record) and those schools scheduled to join next season:
Northeastern.. .. .. ..15-8
Vermont.. .. .. .. .. .12-8
Hartford.. .. .. .. .. 9-11
Maine.. .. .. .. .. ..10-12
Boston U. .. .. .. .. .7-13
New Hampshire .. .. .. 2-19
x-Delaware.. .. .. .. .9-12
x-Drexel.. .. .. .. .. 7-14
x- will join in 1991-92