Supporters of equal programs for women in collegiate sports won a victory last week when a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled that sex discrimination laws apply to schools that receive federal financial aid, even if the funds aren't earmarked for athletics.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph S. Lord III said that Temple University athletic programs are subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The college had argued the law and regulations shouldn't apply because its programs don't receive federal aid specifically earmarked for sports.

Two other district judges ruled earlier this year that athletics aren't covered by Title IX. Nancy Duff Campbell, of the National Women's Law Center, said Lord's ruling is significant because it is the first supporting the women's position and because it could have an impact on other cases involving federal financial aid and discrimination based on race or handicaps.

Judith Lichtman, of the Women's Legal Defense Fund, said the ruling is especially important now "since the Department of Education is trying to cut back Title IX every way it can."

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell told the annual meeting of the American Council on Education Wednesday that his enforcement officials would use "common sense" rather than "bureaucratic assertion" in handling sex discrimination cases. Earlier this year, the department tried to change regulations that applied the law to school employes as well as students. But the Justice Department refused to go along.

The department also has been considering changes in regulations that define "federal financial assistance," which brought Temple and most other universities under Title IX and other civil rights regulations.

Grove City College in Pennsylvania challenged the coverage in court because only its students, not the school, got federal aid. Education officials said recently they hoped to drop student aid from the definition, which would drop Grove City and about 1,000 other colleges, junior and community colleges and business schools from having to comply.

Campbell said any such change would certainly be challenged in court.