The Colonial Athletic Association, a Richmond, Va.-based conference in NCAA Division I, will announce the addition of Towson and three other schools today.
Delaware, Drexel and Hofstra join Towson in leaving the 10-team America East to enlist in the CAA for the 2003-2004 season.
On Monday, they sent two letters to America East commissioner Chris Monasch - one for their resignation and another for their acceptance of the CAA's membership invitation.
The CAA will be Towson's fourth league in 12 years when conference play begins. Towson has competed in America East since 1995-96, but was also in the East Coast Conference and the Big South since the 1992-93 season. It will continue to compete in football in the Patriot League.
Towson athletic director Wayne Edwards declined to comment yesterday, but Monasch said he anticipated the move.
"There have been conversations going on for half a year," Monasch said. "We're disappointed, but it's not a surprise."
This shift had been expected since America East rejected six Colonial schools for expansion in late September.
Three schools - American, East Carolina and Richmond - announced their defections from the CAA earlier in the year, and the league needed more members to keep its automatic bids to NCAA tournaments.
The CAA, which also includes George Mason, James Madison, Old Dominion, UNC-Wilmington, William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth, extended invitations to America East's southernmost schools after the merger was rejected and hoped the four programs would join the league in time for the 2001-2002 academic year.
That request slowed the process. Each school would have been forced to pay a $250,000 fine - in addition to a $150,000 initiation fee for the CAA - if they left America East without two years' notice.
The move will leave America East with six schools - Boston, Hartford, Maine, New Hampshire, Northeastern and Vermont - but with time to find replacements before 2003.
Stony Brook and Albany are a pair of independent programs that have expressed interest in the past and are considered top candidates for expansion.
Northeast Conference schools UMBC and Quinnipiac (in Connecticut) are two others that have been mentioned as possibilities, but are less likely.
Neither school would be penalized for leaving the NEC after July 1, 2003, but the league's commissioner, John Iammarino, said he feels comfortable with the level of commitment from both.
"Both have convinced me that the Northeast Conference is the best place for them at this time," Iammarino said. "I have a lot of trust in Charlie Brown at UMBC and Jack McDonald at Quinnipiac when they say that."