Big South takes a rough turn

January 15, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

The Big South Conference, which includes Towson State and UMBC, got discouraging news this week from its men's basketball champions of the past two seasons.

Campbell, which represented the Big South in the 1992 NCAA tournament, will leave the conference at the end of this academic year, and defending champion Coastal Carolina is being investigated by the NCAA.

Two of the Big South's five games today are in Baltimore, as Coastal Carolina plays Towson State at Towson Center (7:30 p.m.) and Charleston Southern goes to UMBC (3 p.m.).

The news from Campbell and Coastal Carolina darkened what had been a bright winter for the Big South, which just four years ago did not have an NCAA tournament bid. Towson State's season-opening upset at St. John's was the first of several successes: Radford has won at Louisiana State; Coastal Carolina at South Carolina; and Campbell at North Carolina State and South Carolina.

Campbell has called a news conference for Monday, reportedly to announce that it will be heading south, into the Trans America Athletic Conference. The Camels have the only unbeaten record (2-0) in Big South play.

The conference is losing one of its best athletic programs, as the past two years Campbell has won the Commissioner's Cup, which rewards all-around excellence.

Coastal Carolina had won that award the previous four years, in part because Chanticleers coach Russ Bergman has the best winning percentage in conference games of any Big South coach with at least two years' experience.

The NCAA, however, is investigating some of Coastal Carolina's methods.

According to The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C., possible NCAA violations by the Chanticleers include payments to and free airfare for players, free hotel rooms for parents, course credit awarded for work not done and too many on-campus visits by recruits.

Coastal Carolina won the Big South tournament for the third time in four years last March, but it was unable to beat Towson State. En route to a 14-2 record in the Big South, Towson State swept the Chanticleers, only to lose the No. 1 seed with a quarterfinal loss to eighth-seeded Winthrop.

Towson State coach Terry Truax is perplexed by this year's team, which last Saturday opened Big South play with an 82-58 loss at Radford, his worst conference defeat since Drexel beat the Tigers, 93-62, in an East Coast Conference game at the Palestra in Philadelphia in January 1988.

The Tigers (6-6) rebounded with a victory at Liberty, but Truax said he is disturbed by the unpredictable nature of a team that beat St. John's, yet lost to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland by an average of 35 points.

"To me, it looks like our motivation is nonexistent at times," Truax said.

"How can you be unmotivated when you're playing Maryland in front of 12,000 people? It's nerve-racking trying to find out what makes this team tick."

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