George Washington's basketball team in the top 20? GW the home of the nation's elite women's program?

To long-suffering George Washington fans who have grown accustomed to an athletic department rarely blessed with national reputation, these predictions may sound like so many impossible dreams.

And they may well be. But an era of optimism has engulfed GW athletics, thanks to the success of the one-year-old Smith Center and strong backing by the school administration. Faris and George are convinced their programs are on the verge of making headlines. Big headlines.

George appears to have the better chance of succeeding. GW has supported her women's program with large cash outlays. She said, "People are amazed when I tell them what we have done already and where we are going. They don't believe GW is a pace-setter in anything concerning athletics.

"But I think you have to credit our administration. They are determined to give both men and women equl opportunity."

Faris is equally determined to disaprove those doubters who think GW's place in the men's basketball world is somewhat below that of UCLA, Marquette, Indiana and the rest of your weekly top 20.

"We won't settle for mediocrity," he said, but his program still has to prove it can recruit top high school prospects despite obstacles posed by location, stiff entrance requirements and lack of national identity.

"I'm not saying it will be easy," he said, "but other teams have done it. Why can't we?"

The year before Title 9 regulations went into effect, the George Washington women's basketball team was disbanded. Reason: it couldn't get court time to practice at the Tin Tabernacle.

Now the school sponsors eight women's sports under the guidance of an athletic director who is independent of her male counterpart. Few colleges across the country, George said, "have been bold enough to let the women develop their own destiny outside the bounds of the men's program."

The commitment that the GW administration has made over the last two years to women's sports is truly startling, considering the school's overall financial problems and the lack of progress in this area at much larger and more affluent universities.

Quite simply, whatever the men's program has at GW also is included in the women's program. George has a secretary, a trainer, a van to transport teams, qualified coaches for every sport, lockers for every participant and enough financial support, including scholarship money, to make other women athletic directors envious.

Before Title 9, the women's program was conducted by the physical education department and cost about $5,000 annually. By next year, George's budget will be on a 60-40 parity with the men's "only because I can't justify spending as much as they do right now on my program."

But that 60-40 allocation will give her about $300,000 a year, including about $150,000 for scholarships. "I think I could run a quality program without scholarships," George said. "But if the men have them, it is only fair that the women should have them too."

George realizes she has been handed an opportunity few of the fledgling women's programs at other schools have. And she is striving mightily to make the most of it.

What she would like to do is develop a program that emphasizes the educational value of sports just as much as it emphasizes winning. "I don't want to get caught up in the win-at-all-costs attitude of the men's programs."

So far, she says, "there has been no pressure on us right now to produce championship teams in any sports. We've been told to have a well-balanced program and we've gone from there."

Although some schools refuse to play GW because it does award scholarships and others "are constantly asking me, 'Well, what is going to be your No. 1 sport?'" George is willing to let the individual programs develop on a low-key basis.

"The ones that the girls want the most will come to the top," she said. "It may be basketball or swimming or maybe squash. It's a decision we aren't going to make for them."

For now, her department's offerings also include gymnastics, badminton, tennis, volleyball and crew. Sports will be added, she said, "according to demand and interest. That's the beauty of it. We don't tell our athletes what they can have."

With equality, however, have come headaches, especially in the areas of recruiting and scholarships. George is determined to follow current AIAW rules governing both areas "right to the letter of the law," which can create misunderstandings.

"We don't really recruit like men," she said. "Our girls and coaches sat down and developed guildelines that tell us how we should recruit.

"Under our rules, we don't ever tell a potential athlete that she can have a scholarship.If she is admitted to GW, then she can come to us and we can talk about a scholarship. There are no promises, no commitments ahead of time."

As a result, she views scholarships "like they are work-study grants. If I can give her tuition to play a sport for me, she won't have to work. It gives her an opportunity to play.

"But at this point in time, it would be ludicrous for us to give our girls full-ride grants. The level of competence isn't high enough yet. But it will be, and then the girls will be given scholarships comparable to the men's. We're idealistic maybe, but we also are practical."

About 110 athletes are in her program and George sees rapid growth now that things are off the ground. And she sees the school benefiting from their financial outlay.

"Hey, there are loads of fine women athletes out there in the junior highs and high schools, looking for schools that have sports for them to play," she said. "A private school like GW need all the enrollment it can get. And we can help them by doing our job right."

A few days before George Washington played Maryland in men's basketball this season, Bob Faris was listing the teams he felt the Colonials had to beat in the future.

"We've got to be able to compete with the big names," he said. "We have to beat Maryland, Rutgers, people like that. I'm sure we can, because I think we can recruit the two or three blue-chippers you need to be a highly completitive school."

Then GW beat Maryland for the first time in 16 years. Although Faris might consider that victory a taste of things to come, it is apparent his basketball coaching staff isn't so sure.

"I'd like to be the kind of team St. John's is every year," said coach Bob Tallent. "You win 17 or 18 usually and maybe get up to 21 in good years.

"Remember, there are a lot of good teams every year that aren't in the top 20. With a private school, it's hard to compete against those state places with all their money and unlimited facilities."

Can you regularly recruit blue-chippers? he was asked.

"We realistically have little chance of getting any of the top 25 kids in the country," he said. "We've got to get on TV, we've got to get more exposure. But that doesn't mean we can't win by using the near-blues.

"I'd like to think we could be a top 20 teams, but even if we won 13 straight games to open a season, I wonder if we'd be in it.Would they ever rank GW that high.?"

Faris backs up his optimism about GW's basketball future by pointing out how competitive the Colonials were before moving into Smith Center.But others point out that no matter how beautiful the gym is, it still only seats 5,000 people, and that is hardly competitive with other major college facilities.

There are also major road blocks at GW involving admission of athletes and recruiting of locak, Interhigh players. And no one is really sure if the student body is is that hungry for a high-powered program.

"This campus is mainly apathetic," said Larry Omstead, managing editor of the student newspaper. "It's a great transfer and second-choice school. People are mostly commuters. They don't spend lost of time on campus, and they aren't particularly active in extracurricular events.

"I don't know if anything could get them excited. Maybe if we got ranked nationally, that would do it. But there would be a lot of people on campus who could care less what the basketball team ever does."

Of GW's 4,400 total undergraduate enrollment, 2,000 live on campus. There are another 8,000 graduate students, but most are part timers who normally also hold steady jobs, leaving little opportuntiy to attend sporting events.

Attendance is up at basketball games, but not nearly as high as some GW officials expected after switching to Smith Center from Ft. Myer. The Colonials averaged 1,800 per game in 1974-75, their last season at the fort; they have averaged 2,730 per game at Smith Center.

However, students have picked up their allotment of 1,800 tickets for just one game, against Maryland last year. That also is the only sellout so far at the center.

"The better we get, the better we'll draw," said Faris. "Anything is better than the 500 people we'd get for some games at Ft. Myer. If we have great teams, I'm convinced we'll sell out the place."

To develop those great teams, GW needs great players, but the coaches say that high admission standards prevent them from recruiting many blue-chippers, especially those in Washington high schools.

"The NCAA says you have to have a 2.0 to qualify for a scholarship," said assistant coach Tom Schneider, the cheif recruiter. "But we still consider board scores for admission. It cuts down on who we can get in. There are plenty of people we can't get in who play against us every year."

Admissions director Joe Ruth disputes the idea that GW is "a tough place to get into. It's just harder to get in here than most places for an athlete."

"At some places, there are two admission offices. The coach runs one and the admissions office the other. That's not true here. There is no double standard. Athletes have to meet the same requirements as any other students.

"The athletic department and I have our differences, but I just will not admit a kid who hasn't got a prayer of a chance of making it."

Ruth would like every freshmen to have "about a B average in high school and board scores of about 500 each. We're flexible," he said, "but not that much. Maybe that's why we'll never had a great team here."

GW recruits Interhigh athletes every year, but only three - Garland Pinkston, Maurice Johnson and Lesley Anderson - have been given scholarships. And only 25 area players have worn a GW uniform since 1961, when the Colonials won their last Southern Conference title.

"I think a lot of local people are scared away because they think GW is a rough academic school," said Anderson. "And I know my friends are always asking, 'Why did you go to GW?' They think I should have gone to a bigger school."

This is the first year that an Interhigh blue-chipper, Eastern's Ed Ratiff, has filled out and returned a recruiting questionnaire. Schneider views that as significant for future recruiting, along with the victory over Maryland and possible television exposure next year through an Eastern Collegiate Basketball League hookup.

But until there is a significant local breakthrough, GW will continue to concentrate most of its $8,000 recruiting budget on more fruitful areas like Pittsburgh and Kentucky.

Tallent, the school's Kentucky link, sees nothing odd in going so far astray to corner talent.

"Fans will root for players from the moon if they win," he said. "Most of our student body (91 per cent) comes from the Northeast anyway so anywhere there there is good for us. And I have a lot of contacts in Kentucky, so it makes sense for us to recruit there.

"What we are looking for is the quality kid the big schools can't use. People like John Holloran who can develop into top-notch college players. You've got to be able to find the right talent and then make the right choices."

The players who do come to GW, like this year's fine freshmen trio of Tom Glenn, Bucky Roman and Tom Zagardo, usually are intelligent and easy to coach. This year's team for example, had a 2.8 grade point average the first semester.

Tallent feels his players' smarts win him two or three games a season, enough to make the difference between a respectable and good record.

"We have enough of those good seasons in this new league of our and things might snowball," he said. "The league creates rivalries, something we need. It gives the kids some incentive. It's just one reason you have to feel good about this program."

Bob Faris and Lynn George couldn't have put it any better.