Towson State's bid to join the North Atlantic Conference was thwarted yesterday, as the New England-based league decided not to expand to nine teams for the upcoming school year.
The North Atlantic Conference cited fiscal reasons -- program budgets could have been greatly increased with the extra travel -- for not bringing the Tigers into the fold for the 1991-92 season.
North Atlantic Conference commissioner Stu Haskell could not be reached for comment, but Towson athletic director Bill Hunter said the league stayed silent on the possibility of future expansion.
"Of course we're disappointed," Hunter said. "Because of budgetary concerns, I had written off being in the North Atlantic for next season. I thought they would offer membership for the following year. But there's no carrot hanging out for the year after or the year after that."
While Towson officials were expressing disappointment about the decision, officials of the East Coast Conference were relieved to find out what teams would be in the league for next season. Had Towson left, the ECC -- which added Brooklyn College last month -- would have dropped to five members and the league's future would have been in doubt.
"It's a lot more relief here than what it has been the last couple of months," said Marie Wozniak, the assistant commissioner and information director of the ECC. "This gives us a start, and, with the question of Towson out of the way, we can move on."
One of the major reasons for Towson's application to the North Atlantic Conference was the hopes of maintaining a chance to qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament. With current ECC members Delaware and Drexel already on the North Atlantic schedule next season, the league will lose its automatic qualifier for one year starting next season, when it drops from seven to six members.
"The NCAA automatic bid has been an excellent magnet for all the teams in the league to attract recruits," Towson basketball coach Terry Truax said. "I'm somewhat disappointed, but I think our administration made a legitimate effort to move our program in that direction."
When Towson first applied for admission to the North Atlantic in February there were rumors that some of the returning players -- there was only one senior on the team -- would sit out a year to gain another chance to participate in the NCAA tournament. Truax said he has heard of nothing to confirm those rumors.
"I don't know what's going to happen to some of our players as far as redshirting," Truax said. "But I don't see any immediate change with the kids eligible to participate next year. I don't think it helps a kid to sit out."
Truax hopes the NCAA grants the ECC's petition to participate in one of the "play-in" games that went into effect this past season. PTC The champions of six leagues competed against each other to fill three NCAA tournament slots.
"[ECC commissioner] John Carpenter has already petitioned for the league to be considered for a play-in spot," Wozniak said. "He was talking to people at the Final Four, and we hope to find out something soon."
Hunter hopes that the annual meeting of ECC athletic directors next month will result in ways to strengthen the league for the future.
"My concerns about the East Coast Conference is the number of members it has if Towson State or anyone decided to make a conference change," he said. "Something to explore is a merger with another conference, so when a school or two decides to move on to another situation, we don't put the conference in jeopardy of losing the automatic qualifier."
Members of the North Atlantic Conference executive committee visited the Towson State campus a little more than two weeks ago as part of the process in determining whether to add a ninth school.
When Towson applied to the league in February, Haskell and Hunter said it would be difficult to fit the Tigers into the 1990-91 schedule.
The move would have been a costly one for Towson, which travels to league games by bus. It would have been costly as well for the North Atlantic schools, which already had to increase their budgets to include Delaware and Drexel on the 1991-92 schedule. The other schools in the league are Northeastern, Vermont, Hartford, Maine, Boston University and New Hampshire.
Hunter hopes that one day that list will include Towson State.
"We have made a commitment to become North Atlantic members when that is feasible," he said. "I don't think there's a lack of interest in Towson State. The budgetary concerns everyone has makes it impossible right now."
The men's basketball team is one of six that would have joined the North Atlantic had that league accepted Towson. The other teams are women's basketball, baseball, softball, field hockey and soccer.