Erik Quinto, 18, a tight end on the area's top-ranked high school football team, T.C. Williams Titans, says he believes he and some of his teammates would get better grades under the C average rule that the Alexandria School Board is considering.

He also says some of the players would drop out of school.

School Board member Lynnwood Campbell's proposal to require all athletes to earn an accumulative C average the semester before the playing season sparked heated protests in high school athletic circles, spurring a dozen coaches to go before the School Board Oct. 3 to object to the proposal. Athletes who didn't earn the mark would be benched for the season.

"We're all out to improve the student," T.C. Williams athletic director Don Riviere said. "But the coaches need a chance to work with them. If they don't have them playing they can't motivate them academically."

Riviere strongly disagrees with the proposal because it "does not give students a chance to improve their grades while playing. It punishes them for last semester."

While the Alexandria board debates a stricter standard, the Virginia High School League, the panel that sets minimum requirements for students participating in interscholastic sports, will meet today with Virginia high school principals to decide whether to increase from four to five the number of courses athletes must pass each semester.

William Pace, the league's executive secretary,said the VHSL's executive council will not recommend the change. "We think the present requirements are strict enough. We want more students participating, not less," he said.

Last semester 152 of the 821 athletes, or almost 20 percent of the students in league sports, ended the year with a passing D.

If the proposed city rule were in effect now, none of these students would be playing football or field hockey or running cross country this fall.

"I couldn't see myself on the sidelines," says Quinto, whose teammates refer to him as the "morale man." "I would work harder to make sure I could play, but some of the guys can't do any better. They are struggling as it is."

In order to play now, athletes must have passed four courses with at least a D the previous semester and be receiving passing marks in all classes each week of the playing season.

For some athletes, a requirement that they earn a C average would be like a requirement that they score 10 touchdowns each game, Quinto says. "They would turn off the teachers and drop out."

Campbell says that heightened expectations would bring heightened results and that to "accept anything less than a C is to shortchange our students."

The physical education supervisor for Prince George's County Schools, Francis Thomas, agrees with Campbell. He said that after "considerable debate" the county board of education approved a plan effective January 1985 that will ban all students from athletics and extracurricular activities if "they miss a C average even by a hair."

"We know that athletics keep some students in school," said Thomas. "We expect to lose some . . . . There will be some who drop out . . . but we think more will benefit."

As a result of a study done on the likely impact of a new eligibility rule it approved last year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association council will begin meetings this week to discuss softening the rule before it takes effect in January 1986.

The study of 8,800 freshman athletes showed that only 37 percent of the black males surveyed would have qualified to play college sports under a section of the new rule that requires a 700 combined Scholastic Aptitude Test score.

That same requirement would have qualified as many as 87 percent of the white male athletes surveyed.

The study found the rule would have a "negative impact on all student athletes but would be particularly harmful to blacks," according to NCAA legislative assistant Kathleen Haggerty. She said she did not know the extent to which the council planned to reduced the requirements, but said they would be lessened.

Lou Cook, Alexandria's School Board chairwoman, said she "worries that the proposal benches athletes for what they did the previous semester." She said, "Kids aren't good in long-term planning. Like most of us, they need immediate redemption."

Cook said the board is split on the proposal, which she said she supports but "has reservations about in its present form." To allow for amendments and further discussion, she has postponed the vote until Nov. 14.

Another board member, Gene Lange, said that he too was "leaning toward voting for the proposal," but with hestitation. He said he wants to make sure there are exceptions for students who are achieving their best grades. "There's no reason these students shouldn't play sports," he said.

Titan tight end Quinto agreed. "Some of us are strong in books and some are strong in sports," he said. "It's not fair to tell a track person who's doing what he does best he can't run anymore."

Quinto, who said he hopes to go to college on an athletic scholarship, said, "Football lets me know what it feels like to learn how to do better this week than the week before. It's a chance to do something well and feel good about it."