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When my mother attended Towson State, it was called a normal school.

Later, it was Maryland's largest teachers' college.Now it's a full-fledged university with a basketball team in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

Exactly 229 other Division I members envied Towson State last Friday when the Tigers took the floor against No. 1 ranked Oklahoma and proved competitive before bowing 77-68 in a first-round game at Austin, Texas.

Dozens of other colleges across the country could only covet the Division I status that belongs to Towson State, the other 63 teams in the NCAA field and the 229 which fell short.

Teams like Towson State and Northern Iowa and UC-Santa Barbara and Robert Morris and Coppin State provide some of the charm that has turned the NCAA tourney into one of America's most popular sports events.

They harbor the dream of a David who has a chance to scare a Goliath, maybe even slay one. Or maybe a string of them. Just like the tiny high school that turned the trick in Indiana's state tournament back in 1952 and later inspired the movie ``Hoosiers.'

An NCAA berth also translates into revenue - a minimum of $286,500 for every first-round loser this year and more than $1.4 million for each of the final four.

And exposure. For a couple of hours or a couple of days or a couple of weeks, an NCAA entrant embeds itself in the consciousness of most Americans.

Hence, the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament has become a major factor in the decisions of 293 colleges to attain Division I status.

Reality, however, paints a different picture.

Division I has grown out of hand. Those occasional NCAA upsets notwithstanding, there are far less than 293 programs that are worthy of competing at the top level. A darkhorse might manage to win an NCAA game but has only an infinitesimal chance of winning the tournament. And many of the non-qualifiers would be grossly overmatched against well-financed opponents.

Some of the 293 are hard-pressed to average 200 spectators at home games. Others plunge practically all of their limited financial resources into basketball and meet Division I requirements for other varsity sports with shadow programs and part-time coaches.

Consequently, ``restructuring' has arisen as an NCAA political issue that has created a Catch-22 for athletic programs with legitimate Division I aspirations.

Like UNC Greensboro, for example.

UNCG counted on basketball as one of its cornerstones in 1986, when it aimed to develop its non-scholarship Division III athletic program into a Division I entity. Basketball was regarded as the likeliest vehicle for the program to generate community support with the help and availability of the Greensboro Coliseum as a first-class playing facility.

At the time, the NCAA required a five-year transition period for an institution to move from Division III through Division II to Division I. So UNCG adopted the slogan ``Division I in '91' as a rallying cry for its athletic ambitions.

But now, with the target date barely 18 months away, NCAA restructuring has placed just one of several obstacles in UNCG's path toward a viable Division I basketball program.

In 1988, the NCAA adopted a measure that required every aspiring Division I program to compete for three years at that level before it could qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

More recently, the NCAA tacked an additional five years onto that requirement, turning what UNCG originally accepted as a five-year process into a 13-year process.

At present, UNCG cannot anticipate joining the Towson States and Northern Iowas in the NCAA field until at least 1999.

That legislation has made it difficult for UNCG to achieve another of its crucial objectives - membership in an attractive Division I conference.

It is difficult to find a conference that will embrace a member with a basketball program that has not yet qualified for Division I status and does not have a football program as well. That is certainly true of the Colonial Athletic Association, the conference that has been the apple of UNCG's eye.

And even when UNCG fulfills its requirement for Division I basketball recognition, a conference affiliation will be vital to its hopes for an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.

Those circumstances pose serious recruiting and scheduling problems for UNCG coach Bob McEvoy and athletic director Nelson Bobb.

McEvoy's sixth season at UNCG was his worst from the standpoint of wins and losses. A 6-22 finish left his six-year record at 83-79. He has one year remaining on his present contract, which Bobb says will be honored.

``Recruiting has been difficult, especially within the state, because prospects don't recognize UNCG as a Division I program,' Bobb said last week.

``Bob McEvoy is definitely set to be our coach through the 1990-91 season. Honoring contracts is part of our commitment to excellence and our followers and contributors understand that they need to demonstrate a certain level of patience.

``At the same time, we're not going to be satisfied with back-to-back seasons like the one we just experienced and we need to win often enough to start filling our (2,400-seat) campus gym.

``Scheduling also poses a problem for us because the program is in transition. It's hard to strike a balance between Division I teams who are willing to play us and teams we have a chance to beat.

``There's no question that Coach McEvoy has as hard a challenge as any coach in any sport anywhere in the country.'

Bobb's hopes for removing the obstacles that stand between UNCG and full-fledged Division I basketball status rest with an NCAA committee that is studying the restructuring issue and will forward its recommendations to the NCAA Council and the Presidents Commission later this year for consideration at the organization's annual convention next January.

That committee is expected to establish criteria for Division I basketball status that some present Division I members may not be able to fulfill. In order to qualify, athletic programs probably will need to demonstrate more overall breadth, quality and drawing power than is presently required.

The establishment of such criteria may shorten the waiting period for Division I basketball recognition among aspiring colleges that can meet the standards.

Meanwhile, as UNCG is learning, it's no longer possible for a Towson State to appear in the NCAA Tournament overnight. It can only be the end result of a long, arduous process.

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