The Eastern Eight is a college basketball conference.

Sure it is.

George Washington University is a member, along with seven other orphans who were lost in the storm. Until a year ago, they all were independents, meaning they played in no organized league.

They still don't play in an organized league. They play in the Eastern Eight.

The Eastern Eight has no commissioner. It is run by a committee.

We all know about committees.

They make strange things happen.

George Washington went to practice at 2 o'clock Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh. They'd called ahead and were given permission to work out at Duquesne University. They would play the next night in Pittsburgh's Civic Arena, taking on Pitt in a first-round game.

A strange thing happened.

"We had permission to work out from Red Manning," said GW Coach Bob Tallent, naming the Duquesne athletic director. "But, apparently, he hadn't told John Cinicola. They're not getting along too well lately."

Manning is about to fire Cinicola. So the athletic director hadn't spoken to the coach. And Duquesne itself was practicing in the time set aside for GW.

"We were shut out," Tallent said. Some of his players, in street clothes, shot around for a while, then went back to the hotel to sit and wait for a game they had to win if they hoped to get into the NCAA tournament.

For their 7 o'clock game the next night, George Washington's players arrived at the arena an hour early.

A strange thing happened.

The players walked down a corridor until they found a locker room marked by a sign that read, "Visiting Team, 2nd Game."

So they went in.

And there was Duquesne's team again, ready for the first game of the night.

Somebody appointed by the comically inefficient Eastern Eight explained to Tallent that GW belonged in another locker room. It was an actor's dressing room.

"It had these little lights, real cute, all around some mirrors," Tallent said.

Tallent's assistant, Tom Schneider, put a hand alongside his mouth and said, in a mock highpitched voice, "You're on in five minutes."

"It had two showerheads and four benches," Tallent said.

This time he argued loudly.

And Duquesne was evicted from GW's locker room, a nice place normally used by the Pittsburgh Penguin's major league hockey team.

Then came the game.

You talk about strange.

Pitt beat GW 85-83.

Pitt won because it had two fine players, Larry Harris and Sam Clancy, who had 42 points and 18 rebounds. Pitt won because its scrambling defense forced GW into repeated mistakes. And Pitt won because the referees' incompetence hurt GW more often than it hurt Pitt.

I don't like to criticize referees. They have an impossible job. But these guys were just impossible. Pitt led by a point at 72-71 with 4 1/2 minutes to play when Clancy mugged GW's Les Anderson, who was attempting a layup. Clancy is 6-foot-6, weighs about 220 and plays basketball with all the sweetness of a tire iron.

Colliding with Anderson, Clancy blocked the shot.

No whistle by Dutch Shemple, one of the court, where he took a pass and put in a layup at full speed.

As he did it, he crashed into GW's Bob Lindsay who at the risk of his motor ability, had taken a defensive position directly in Clancy's path, standing there stockstill to take the charge.

Clancy hit him.

And Lindsay hurtled backwards. He fell. He rolled over on his back, finally coming to rest upside-down on his head.

No whistle. No call.

Little wonder, then, that GW didn't like the referees.

"They were a joke," Tallent said.

"The whol thing - not practicing, trying, to get us in the wrong locker room, the refs - was like they were trying to hustle us in and hustle us out of the tournament," said Lindsay. "They really put the screws to us."

Because the Eastern Eight tournament was a financial disaster a year ago in Philadelphia (barely 8,000 people paid their way in for three days of basketball), the tournament was moved to Pittsburgh this year. That's because two Pittsburgh teams, Pitt and Duquesne, are good draws.

"This wasn't a tournament to get into the NCAA," said Schneider, the assistant coach. "This was the Steel Bowl."

The Steel Bowl was a regular-season tournament in Pittsburgh featuring Duquesne and Pitt. Some people have suggested that Schneider might have meant "the StealBowl." But then, you know how some people are.