DALLAS, JUNE 19 -- Gov. Bill Clements (R) knew of payments to Southern Methodist University football players as early as 1983 and was responsible for deciding to continue the pay-for-play scheme in 1985, a committee of bishops reported today.

The report said Clements, then chairman of the SMU board of governors, overruled two top-ranking SMU officials in 1985 and ordered Athletic Director Bob Hitch to continue the payments less than three months after SMU was put on probation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for the infractions.

"Clements asked him {Hitch} whether the payments could be continued, and when Hitch responded that they could, Hitch recalled Clements telling him specifically and unambiguously, 'then do it,' " according to the report.

The committee also concluded that some SMU officials began a "concerted effort" to cover up Clements' involvement in the scandals beginning last November, about the time of the gubernatorial election.

{The report said that in return for generous settlements to Hitch and former football coach Bobby Collins, Hitch would take the blame for the payoffs, Post special correspondent Don McCarthy reported. Hitch and Collins resigned in December. Hitch is to receive up to $246,442 through May 31, 1989, and Collins up to $556,272 through 1990.}