Athletic directors of major Eastern independent basketball teams, including Georgetown University, are talking informally about the possibility of forming a league for the 1981-82 season.
That is the target date because, unless the NCAA grants an exemption before then, these Eastern teams will lose their three automatic bids that year for the NCAA basketball tournament under the umbrella of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).
Under an NACC bylaw passed inJanuary, all leagues receiving automatic bids for the NCAA tournament must either play a double round-robin schedule or a single round-robin with a season-ending tournament to retain that bid. The ECAC does not play round-robin.
Of the 23 automatic bids, only the three granted to the ECAC, composed of independents aligned in geographical regions, do not qualify under the current NCAA rules. The rule passed in January, in effect, gave the ECAC until the 1981-82 season to come up with a solution.
The three ECAC leagues -- New England, Metor, New York-New Jersey and the Southern-Upstate New York, comprise 49 schools. A clear majority of those schools will favor the round-robin concept.
However, the major basketball schools, led by Georgetown, Syracuse, Providence and St. John's, perceive such a setup having a negative effect on their programs, especially in recruiting.
Frank Rienzo, the Georgetown athletic direcotr, said yesterday three options remain open to these schools:
Get the NCAA to grant the ECAC schools a permanent exemption from the round-robin rule, which ECAC Commissioner Robert W. (Scotty) Whitelaw says "would be a hard sell on the convention floor. It would be one hell of a salesmanship type of job to get the rest of the people to see our way."
Return to true independent status, in which a school's only route to gaining a berth in the NCAA tournament would be as an at-large entrant. Under the current 40-team NCAA tournament setup, 17 spots are available for at-large teams. But a number of these go to second conference representatives and Wayne Duke, chairman of the NCAA basketball committee, says there is stronger sentiment to allow more than two teams from the same league into the NCAA tournament in the future.
Currently, a selection committee chooses the teams that compete in the ECAC playoffs. The other Southern Division members, besides Georgetown, are Baltimore U., Catholic U., George Mason, James Madison, Navy, Old Dominion, Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth and William and Mary. The Upstate New York division includes Canisius, Colgate, Robert Morris, Niagara, St. Bonaventure, St. Francis (Pa.) and Syracuse.
Form a new league that would comply with NCAA rules for an automatic bid, i.e., playing a single roundrobin schedule with a season-ending tournament and conducting league championships in five other sports.
Trhe teams most likely to be interested in such a setup, according to Rienzo, Whitelaw and other sources, are: Georgetown, Providence, St. John's Syracuse, St. Bonaventure, Holy Cross, Boston College Seton Hall, Fordham and Manhattan.
Georgetown, for instance, currently plays all of those schools annually, except Providence and Syracuse. Georgetown and 16 other schools make up the Southern-Upstate New York region. Of those, Georgetown plays only St. Francis (Pa.), St. Bonaventure and Navy on a regular basis.
"It's safe to say," Rienzo said, "everybody's talking about it. Everybody who cares is talking and is talking to a lot of people about it. Mental preparation is being done. They're all doing their homework."