A shaky financial picture in New England led the North Atlantic Conference to postpone expansion plans yesterday, leaving Towson State in the East Coast Conference for the 1991-92 school year.
A member of the ECC since 1982, Towson State applied for membership in the North Atlantic in February. Eight athletic directors from that conference met in Boston yesterday, but before considering Towson State's application, they instead decided to table any expansion plans.
Athletic director Bill Hunter said Towson State remains interested in the North Atlantic. Hunter said he told NAC commissioner Stu Haskell he would continue to try to get the Tigers into that league.
"I asked Stu when the NAC summer meetings are," Hunter said. "They're June 20-24, and I asked him if we could get our application on the agenda then. He said he would try, and that he would get back to me on that.
"Membership in the North Atlantic remains the priority. What happened yesterday doesn't mean we don't have a continuing interest in that conference. Of the opportunities available, the North Atlantic is the best one for us."
The North Atlantic will add Delaware and Drexel, current members of the ECC, to six New England colleges in September. Current NAC members include Bos- ton University, Hartford, Maine, Northeastern, New Hampshire and Vermont. The five states they represent are among 11 with the worst state budget deficits in the nation.
"The pressure to cut back operating expenses at some of our schools has been intense," Haskell said. "That includes some of Towson State's strongest supporters. Before yesterday's meeting, some of our athletic directors had been told to take the position of not considering expansion, because of the additional expense involved.
"This is an unexpected development, and we don't feel very good about it. They [Towson State] were a victim of the economy."
If Towson State had been accepted into the North Atlantic, it was expected to trigger another round of defections from the ECC, which was hurt two years ago when Bucknell, Lafayette and Lehigh announced they would be joining the Patriot League.
The ECC recently added Brooklyn College, and it could have seven members for the 1991-92 year if Buffalo's application is expedited.
Because of non-compliance with various continuity of membership rules, the ECC will lose its automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament in 1992, but the inclusion of Towson State in next year's plan could strengthen its appeal to be included in next year's play-in. If it retains Towson State, Hofstra and Rider for 1992-93, it will be back in good standing with the NCAA.
"It's a relief," ECC assistant commissioner Marie Wozniak said in reaction to the news that Towson State would be staying for at least 1991-92. "We're still optimistic about the future of the conference, and this is a step in the right direction."