The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which has existed for four years in an unbalanced state with regard to NCAA classification, faces the grave danger of losing three of its seven member-schools.
Morgan State, North Carolina Central and Maryland-Eastern Shore have remained at the Division II level long after the other four members (Howard, North Carolina A&T, South Carolina State and Delaware State) went Division I.
The three Division II institutions could be asked by the conference to drop out at its May 23-25 annual meeting, it was learned.
"As of right now, we're doing all we can to keep everybody in the confernece," said MEAC Commissioner Ken Free. "Nobody has formally dropped out. But if they (the Division II members) are not going Division I by the meeting, then we'll have to seriously reconsider whether we can afford to keep them."
Maryland-Eastern Shore, although not having formally requested to drop out, has already applied for membership in the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and will definitely leave the MEAC, according to Athletic Director Jim Kehoe.
Morgan State and N.C. Central have indicated they will apply for Division I status, but not until after the MEAC meeting. That seems contrary to the wishes of Free, who wants all applications to be made to the NCAA prior to the meeting.
However, time may already have run out for the four Division I schools in terms of retaining their present status. The NCAA rule for 75 percent scheduling of Division I opponents in basketball took effect this year. Hampered by the necessity of playing at least six Division II games (two against each Division II school) in the MEAC, none of the Division I conference schools fulfilled that requirement.
The NCAA Classification Committee will meet in early June and could drop the four MEAC Division I schools back down to Division II, where they would have to remain for at least three years.
(There is no precedent for that type of action: this will be the first time the classification committee has reviewed schedules.)
The threat of NCAA action won't help the conference in its attempts to lure other schools to membership in order to reach its goal of eight to 10 members.
Florida A&M, the 1978 Division IAA national football champion; Bethune-Cookman; Alabama State, and Morris Brown have all been approached by the MEAC. All except independent Alabama State are Division I members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and share similar problems to MEAC members with a split-level organization.
But no Division I-oriented college will join a conference that is unsure where it is headed.
"They (the Division II MEAC schools) are saying economics won't allow them to go up one class," said Free. "The cost of football, plus fielding teams in a minimum of seven other sports, is prohibitive to them. There may be some reconsideration of them petitioning the NCAA."