The ECAC South conference will announce Thursday it is changing its name and will become semi-independent from the governing Eastern College Athletic Conference in an effort to win greater recognition.

Particulars, including the new title, will be disclosed at a meeting in Richmond, according to a spokesman for the conference.

Sources say the move is part of an effort to build the eight-team alignment into a recognized, prestigious league that can eventually compete with the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences. The ECAC South includes the Naval Academy, American, George Mason, William and Mary, James Madison, Richmond, East Carolina and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

The break with the ECAC could mean loss of an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament. But conference athletic directors are hoping the NCAA will proffer at least an at-large bid, based on the performance of the schools in recent tournaments. An ECAC South team has won a first-round game in each of the last five NCAA tournaments. Navy upset LSU this year before losing to Maryland in the second round.

The ECAC includes the East Coast, Ivy League, Metro-Atlantic, ECAC North and ECAC Metro conferences. The new conference will retain some ties to the governing body, but sources said the extent of those remains to be determined.

AU's basketball coach, Ed Tapscott, said, "I think it's a good move. It depends now on what we do with it, what kind of affiliation there is. The issue is autonomy, if we will be able to decide our own fate." . . .

Florida Gov. Bob Graham backs up University of Florida President Marshall Criser in saying no one will take the Southeastern Conference football championship away from the Gators.

"I don't condone the things the university athletic department did, for which they are going to pay very serious sanctions," Graham added, referring to NCAA rules violations that brought a three-year probation.

Reacting Monday to a 6-4 vote of SEC university presidents to strip the Gators of the 1984 title, Criser called the action "a nullity" and said Florida would study quitting the league . . .

Temple University will begin a program to combat drug and alcohol abuse among student athletes and it will include random drug testing, President Peter Liacouras announced. Penalties for positive results would run from individual education and rehabilitation for a first violation to suspension for a second violation and permanent dismissal for a third.