The conference rivalry between Towson State and UMBC could be short-lived.
Both are looking to leave the shrinking East Coast Conference, and they appear headed in opposite directions. Athletic director Bill Hunter said yesterday that Towson State has applied to join the Northeast Conference, while UMBC athletic director Charlie Brown speaks more positively about a future in the Big South Conference.
The Northeast Conference presidents will be discussing expansion at a meeting next Tuesday, so Towson State could know as early as next week if it will be rejoining a conference it left in 1982. UMBC's Brown said he wasn't sure if the Retrievers' plans would be finalized before the NCAA Convention in early January.
There is much urgency, because the sooner the two schools act, the better their chances of being in a conference with an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament in 1992-93. "I'd like to get this out of the way this afternoon, if I could," Hunter joked.
In leaning toward the Northeast, Towson State would get a chance to renew its rivalry with Mount St. Mary's and join a basketball conference where Monmouth, Robert Morris, St. Francis (Pa.) and Fairleigh Dickinson have come up in the world in recent years. Cost is also a factor, as Towson State would never have to travel beyond Pennsylvania or New York.
UMBC, meanwhile, is wary of commitments the NEC requires of its members, who must be on board for a minimum of five years and pay a $250,000 penalty if they break that agreement. The Big South means road trips as far a south as South Carolina -- current members are Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, Davidson, Radford, Liberty, Charleston Southern, North Carolina-Asheville and Campbell -- but it also includes an automatic bid to the NCAA baseball tournament.
Wherever Towson State and UMBC end up, the conferences in question will be getting universities with commitments to broad-based programs that go beyond men's basketball.
The two meet tomorrow (8 p.m.) in the semifinals of the Baltimore Beltway Classic at UMBC, and it could serve as the last season opener in the ECC, which is also losing Rider to the Northeast Conference.
* The Beltway Classic isn't the only tournament going on in Maryland this weekend.
In Salisbury, the Sea Gull Classic has both men's and women's brackets. The Salisbury State men, of course, have senior forward Andre Foreman, who might be the nation's best Division III player. An unsung hero on the women's team is Cheryl Ish, a field hockey All-American who is also a member of the NCAA's Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
Washington looks to regain control of its own Wild Goose Classic, which it lost to Dickinson last year. Tom Finnegan's Shoremen (1-2), who last season had their first losing record since 1979-80, lost Tuesday at St. Mary's, where the Seahawks have one of their best teams ever.
* Johns Hopkins caps the first half of the swim season with a meet using the NCAA championship format. Fellow Division III power Gettysburg and Lehigh are in town for the three-day competition that starts tomorrow. Jay Smith, a senior backstroker from Lakeland, Fla., has already qualified for the NCAAs, and Blue Jays coach George Kennedy has a half-dozen others he hopes to get to the NCAAs in March.
* South Alabama's Jeff Campbell, a junior who went to Randallstown High, was 32nd in the NCAA Division I cross country championships . . . Frostburg State fullback Rory McTigue is the only repeater on the ECAC South all-star football team . . . Junior guard Missy Quille is redshirting this season while upgrading her academics, one reason the UMBC women's basketball team takes an 0-4 record to a tournament at New Mexico State this weekend.