Towson, UMBC to go Big South Area schools quit ECC for more stable conference

December 17, 1991|By Paul McMullen

The Big South Conference will get bigger today.

One of the youngest Division I leagues in the NCAA, the Big South's membership was to expand with the announcement that Towson State and the University of Maryland Baltimore County would be joining the conference for 1992-93.

Officials at Big South headquarters in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and both local universities declined to comment yesterday, but Buddy Sasser, commissioner of the Big South, acknowledged that he would be at a downtown hotel today for a news conference called jointly by both schools.

In Towson State and UMBC, the Big South gains a foothold in Baltimore, which would be the largest metropolitan area in a league that currently stretches from South Carolina to Virginia. Besides boosting the conference's power rating in several key sports, the local universities also are committed to the broad-based philosophy that the NCAA is going to demand of its Division I members starting in 1993-94.

In the Big South, Towson State and UMBC will find a safe haven after the disintegration of the East Coast Conference. The ECC is without a bid to the NCAA basketball tournament this season for the first time since its inception in 1974-75.

The Big South doesn't enjoy the status that even the ECC once had, but it does offer stability and growing institutions that -- like Towson State and UMBC -- are relative newcomers to Division I.

The Big South will lose Davidson to the Southern Conference next year, and the addition of Towson State and UMBC would give it nine members for 1992-93. Liberty and Radford are in Virginia, Campbell and UNC-Asheville are in North Carolina, and Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina and Winthrop are in South Carolina.

Charleston Southern and Campbell joined Division I in the 1970s, and the other five made the move up between 1984 and '86. Charleston, S.C., is a 580-mile drive from Baltimore. The closest Big South school is Liberty, 220 miles away in Lynchburg, Va.

Formed in 1984 and registered as a Division I conference in 1985, the Big South completed the NCAA's mandatory five-year waiting period last year, when it received a waiver into the Division I tournament along with the new Patriot League. Coastal Carolina won a play-in game to get in the 64-team field, where the Chanticleers threw a first-round scare into Indiana.

The Big South is one of the 30 conferences with automatic bids to the 1992 tournament. Its tournament will be held in Anderson, S.C., and the March 7 championship will be televised on ESPN.

Towson State and UMBC could help the Big South regain the bid to the NCAA baseball tournament it lost this year because of a weakened power rating. The Tigers and Retrievers also could help the Big South get an automatic bid in soccer, in which Radford has been strong but hardly dominating in recent years behind Dante Washington (Oakland Mills) and several other players from Howard County.

Men's championships also are offered in cross country, golf and tennis. Six women's sports are sponsored: basketball, cross country, softball, tennis, golf and volleyball. Coastal Carolina has been most dominant across the board in recent years, as it won its fourth straight Commissioner's Cup last spring. Men's and women's track and women's soccer will be added in 1993-94.

Meanwhile, with Rider moving to the Northeast Conference and Hofstra announcing it won't be back, the ECC could be down to three members in 1992-93. The NCAA requires a conference to have at least six.

"I was hoping for a merger [with another conference]," said John Carpenter, commissioner of the ECC. "I don't see that we have many options. We've gained some members in recent years, but there aren't that many independents left to invite in."

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