NAC for basketball plays big part in Towson move

April 15, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

Joining forces with four flagship state universities appealed to the Towson State administration.

Automatic bids to NCAA tournaments in women's basketball, men's soccer, field hockey and baseball are other reasons the Tigers were attracted to the North Atlantic Conference.

Conference movement in the 1990s usually revolves around men's basketball, however, and that sport figured prominently in the talks that led to yesterday's official announcement that Towson State and Hofstra would become the ninth and 10th members of the NAC.

Towson State is in its second year in the Big South Conference, which lost its automatic bid to the 1995 NCAA tournament because of unstable membership.

Hofstra will join the NAC in the fall, but the Tigers won't be in the fold until the 1995-96 school year. Next season will be the second in four that an NCAA berth won't be available to them come tournament time, and coach Terry Truax is pleased by the more settled situation offered by the NAC.

The conference, in turn, will get a program that either won a postseason tournament or a regular-season title each of the last five years. The NAC's rating among the 33 Division I conferences has risen from last six years ago to 19th this year.

Earlier expansion by the NAC had sent Towson State to the Big South. From 1982 to 1991, Delaware and Drexel were members of the East Coast Conference along with Towson State. When they left for the NAC, the ECC lost its automatic bid.

Delaware won the NAC title in 1992 and '93, and Drexel took the title this year. The home-court advantage for higher-seeded teams is used throughout the NAC tournament, a feature the Tigers could have used each of the past two seasons, when they finished atop the Big South standings but lost in the conference tournament's early rounds.

"If you're in a conference that's probably only going to send its champion to the [NCAA] tournament," Truax said, "I've always argued that it should be the regular-season champion and not decided by a tournament. If you have a tournament, it's incumbent to reward the teams that do well in the regular season."

Truax said he'll explore the possibility of guard Scooter Alexander, who's on track to become the Tigers' all-time leading scorer, redshirting next year and returning as a fifth-year senior in 1995-96, when they will be in the NAC and have access to an NCAA automatic berth.

The NAC has discussed expansion beyond 10 teams, and UMBC, like Towson State a member of the Big South, hopes to be included in those plans. A 12-team conference would be split into two divisions, but the conference might go to divisions for selected sports in 1995-96, with Delaware, Drexel, Hartford and Hofstra joining Towson State in the South; and Boston University, Maine, New Hampshire, Northeastern and Vermont in the North.

Towson State expected to be in the NAC by now, but the conference voted against expansion three years ago.

"The NAC and Towson State have been in a courting situation the last several years," commissioner Stu Haskell said. "The desire to expand was not there [in 1991], but we were able to convince some additional schools the time was good now."

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