The Metro Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament -- not to mention its livelihood beyond this year -- probably was preserved with yesterday's announcement that an NCAA special committee will propose an alteration to the rules governing a conference's eligibility for automatic-bid status.

The Metro has been one of the leagues hardest hit by defections during the recent months of football-driven conference reshuffling, to the point that only half its eight schools will remain in the fold for next season -- Louisville, Tulane, Southern Mississippi and Virginia Tech. And Virginia Tech has been contemplating leaving as well.

But Metro officials hoped that a recommendation like yesterday's would help keep the league intact. As the NCAA rules now stand, a conference must have a membership of at least six schools that have been part of the league at least five years apiece to be considered for an automatic bid.

But the special committee, which is chaired by Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Gene Corrigan, will recommend to the NCAA Division I Championships Committee that a waiver be granted -- after a one-year waiting period -- to a conference composed of at least six schools that have been in Division I for the previous eight years.

So the Metro, if it keeps Virginia Tech and manages to consummate plans to add South Florida and North Carolina-Charlotte, might survive -- if the schools are willing to endure the one-year wait for consideration. Yesterday's decision by the NCAA came with some debate, for it has been argued of late that to open such a loophole in this time of ever-changing conference alignments eventually might prove troublesome.

"We reached a compromise," Corrigan said. "To change the rules of the game completely and totally now was something we didn't feel we could do. We've made some long-term recommendations and a short-term compromise."

Miller May Return

Former Oregon State coach Ralph Miller, who will turn 72 in March, might be returning to the bench in this month -- as a coach of the Newport Harbor (Calif.) High School girls team. His daughter Shannon Jakosky normally coaches the team with her husband Jack, but she is due to give birth Feb. 20 during the state playoffs.

If she stays on schedule, and the team keeps winning, Miller said he might return to high school coaching for the first time since 1951. "I think Jack would take over, but I might sit on the bench with him," Miller said yesterday. "It probably would be fun." . . .

Two of the 64 voters for the Associated Press top 25 poll managed to rank Ohio State No. 1 this week, ahead of Nevada-Las Vegas. The AP's Jim O'Connell, who oversees the poll, said he is not allowed to identify those two voters, but he indicated neither is from the Midwest.

"They both said they were so impressed with Ohio State's road wins over Indiana and Minnesota that, the records being equal, they liked Ohio State," O'Connell said. But of course that was before the Buckeyes lost last night, 75-61, to Michigan State. . . .

Seven of Temple's nine Atlantic 10 opponents never have won at the Owls' home court, McGonigle Hall. Temple is 65-2 in Atlantic 10 play there, with the losses coming to Duquesne in February 1983 (by 73-70 in overtime) and West Virginia in February 1987 (64-61). The Owls, 129-11 overall at McGonigle, have won 36 consecutive conference games at home. . . . On the flip side of the equation, Colorado has lost 54 consecutive Big Eight road games, Northwestern 40 straight Big Ten road games.

Novice Star

Fordham's 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior center Damon Lopez did not play basketball in high school, and did not begin starting for the Rams until last season. But that hasn't stopped him from becoming this season's Patriot League leader in rebounding (9.7 per game), blocked shots (3.2 per game) and field goal percentage (.616). He's fifth in scoring with an average of 17.9 points. The Rams are 15-5 overall, 7-0 in the Patriot League. . . .

No wonder Indiana (19-2) is doing so well -- after his team lost to the Hoosiers, 97-63, on Saturday night, Michigan State center Mike Peplowski said: "They're 5,000 percent better than last year." . . .

Arizona has been struggling to win in the Pacific-10 despite its "Tucson Skyline" of supposedly dominating front-court players: 6-11 Brian Williams, 6-11 Sean Rooks and 7-footer Ed Stokes. The reason for the Wildcats' troubles? Rebounding.

Going into last night's game, Arizona was ninth in the Pac-10 in rebounding margin, being outrebounded by 4.2 per game in conference play. Rooks, who weighs 240 pounds, got zero rebounds in 27 minutes against Stanford last Thursday. "I have a hard time understanding that," said Coach Lute Olson, whose team was outrebounded by 44-23 (including 18-4 on the offensive end) by the Cardinal -- Arizona's worst rebounding margin in a Pac-10 game since 1983-84, Olson's first season. . . .

Division III Yeshiva University's star freshman forward, Miko Danan, 21, has been called back into the Israeli Defense Forces because of the Persian Gulf War. The team is wearing flag patches on its uniforms for both the United States and Israel.