Area college runners are about to start measuring their abilities on the outdoor circuit, but one fact already had been determined. The overall situation at local schools is healthy, and even perennial weak sisters are flexing their muscles.

For Howard, the supreme test comes June 4 at Champaign, Ill., where Richard Massey will try to win the NCAA 400-meter title and anchor the Bison in the 1,600-meter relay. Coach Bill Moultrie envisions success in both endeavors; he has programed Massey for a 44-flat quarter, the relay team for a 3-03.

For Maryland, the spring grade will be A or F., depending on the result at Philadelphia May 21, where the Terrapins defend their outdoor IC4A championship against indoor king Villanova. Coach Frank Costello expects to the nation must wait a while.

For Georgetown, the bog one also will come at Philadelphia, and against Villanova, but three weeks earlier. The Hoyas will try to unseat the WIldcats in the distance-medley relay, which Villanova has dominated for 11 years, and in the 6,000-meter relay.

For Navy, the season peaks earlier than usual, on May 14, but the opponent is unchanged. The Army meet has been shifted from June Week because of conflict with the NCAA championships, but the Mids will be no less motivated to extend their winning streak to six.Army won indoors, and no more needs be said.

For rebuilding Virginia, American and Catholic, the big battles will be fought on paper, with the acquisition of signatures on letters of intent. The Cavaliers had a great recruiting year in 1976 and need another. The Eagles are on the upswing after striking bottom. The Cardinals are struggling in Division I without those graduated heroes of Division II days, Mark Robinson and Clarence Musgrove.

As usual, most of the major battles will be fought on distant tracks. Four attractions of note are listed for this area, but fans will have to make a choice of which to see. The Howard Relays will be contested April 9, the same day Maryland and Navy Collide at Annapolis. The Maryland Track Classic at Byrd Stadium, a major IC4A and NCAA qualifier, follows by one day Army's journey to the Annapolis cinders.

Besides hosting the area's only major relay attraction, Howard is roaming to such warm-weather Edens as Gainesville, Fla. and Austin, Tex., to display its fleet corps of quarter-milers. The Bison clocked 3:05.9 as an NCAA relay finalist last year and 400-meter finalist Massey ran 45.94, so Moultrie's projections are by no means far-fetch.

At the Florida Relays yesterday, Howard was timed in 3:08.1 for the slightly longer (about 10 yards) mile relay. The Bison placed third behind Ohio University (3:07.9) and Kentucky State (3:08.0) when Reggie Sojourner could not hold the lead built up by Massey on a 45.9 third leg.

Massey, usually the anchor man, was swithed because he was running his sixth race in two days. He ran a 46.2 open quarter to place second behind Trinidad Olympian Joseph Coombs and joined Gosnell White, Sojourner and Michael Archie as the Bison's sprint-medley team colleted a quarter of watches with a front-running 3:19.7.

This week Howard will get a prime test in the Texas Relays, sticking to the mile event for a classic matchup with Kansas, Arizona State and Baylor.

"We want to be among the top three in the country in the mile relay," Moultrie said. "We'll also try to qualify as many people individually as we can for the nationals. I think Massey, if he stays healthy, will run 44 flat from the blocks."

Howard is a Penn Relays contender in the sprint-medley relay, as well as the 1,600-meter event. Yet the Bison will have a tough time winning the Mid-Eastern Conference title, because weakness in the field events. Last year Howard placed third eight points behind Delaware State and its corps of javelin, discus and shot men.

"We would have to spread our personnel extremely thin to win it (the MEAC) Moultrie said. "We're not a manpower team. We've been concentrating on specialities.Our youngsters have more fun running in the NCAA, and competing against schools like Arizona State and Villanova, than they do in the conference meet."

Maryland's athletes enjoy the IC4A more than Atlantic Coast Conference competition, but they will be ready for that test at Charlotesville April 22-23.

"I could probably live around here all year and lose every other meet, but if I lose the ACC I lose my job," Costello said.

He is not worried. Maryland has won 21 straight ACC titles and possesses overwhelming across-the-board strength. The Terrapins are so potent that it would take a lot of ill health even to deprive them of another IC4A crown.

Last year Maryland lost star sprinter Nick Basciano, yet still amassed 94 points for a 25-point IC4A margin over runner-up Penn. Where the indoor IC4 favors running teams like Villanova, the outdoor meet has all those extra field events where Maryland is so deep.

Scott Hersh and Tom Anderson in the discus Jim Kirby in the javelin, Greg Robertson in the intermediate hurdles and strong 440-yard relay team fiture to pile up points that were unavailable indoors. And sprinters Manny Rosenberg and Andre Lancaster are better at 100 and 220 than the indoor 60.

"Losing the ICs indoors was a disappointment," said Costello, who added, "I'm a pathelic loser. My mother said I'm the worst loser in the world and I am. Winning doesn't even make me that happy, but losing still burns a week later."

Georgetown is probably a year away from overtaking Villanova's relay troops, until that great New Jersey distance star, Kevin Byrne, arrives at the Hilltop. Byrne was the nation's fastest schoolboy indoors at both a mile and two miles this winter. When Byrne joins residents star Jim Peterson, the Hoyas should be set.

"This spring we want to get the other kids some experience," said coach Joe Lang, "so when Byrne joins us we won't just have Jimmy Peterson."

Those "kids" include freshman Bill Ladder, the O'Connell product, and Chris Neilson, who was lured away from Eugene, Ore. with Keith Royster and Ron Stafford they give Georgetown a strong distance-medley base and a decent four-mile foundation.

"We're not outstanding all down the line," Lang said, "but we're getting there. We keep knocking our heads against the wall with this Villanova bunch, but as long as we keep getting closer I'm satisfied."

Peterson, a superb miler, will be going up in distance, with the goal of placing high in the NCAA 5,000 meters.

"Jimmy is more mature this year and we can afford to run him in tougher things than in the past," Lang said. "He's a real loose character and he wants to try the steeplechase. Who knows, it might be his best event."

"Army is a high priority," said Navy coach Jim Gehrdes in a classic understatement. The Cadets posted a 68-50 decision indoors, but Gehrdes pointed out that the margin was not indicative. They announced that Army had won the meet just before the mile relay and it was a real downer for our kids."

Gehdes thinks his mile-relay quartet, which ran 3:15 indoors, can get close to 3:10 outdoors. The key is senior Daryl Anderson, the area's best quarter-mile outside of Howard. Others with solid credentials are sophomore Bruce Prutzman and plebe Jeff Colvin.

Hurdler Tony Campbell, three-miler Claude Barron, middle-distance specialists Mark Fisher and Tim Rose, and javelin veterans Frank Delape and Dave Barile are others who figure to do well.

The dual meets with Maryland and Army are on the Thompson Field cinders.

Virginia scored 17 1/2 points in the ACC indoor meet, all by underclassmen and all but two by freshmen. Among the Cavaliers' bumper freshman crop and half-meler Greg Canty from Broad Run, the ACC indoor 1,000 champion; twin hurdlers Karl and Kevin Williams, and discuss ace Phil Vincenzes of Edison, who hurt his wrist throwing the shot indoors and will skip that event outdoors.

"We had a real good recruiting year," said coach Dennis Craddock. "Now we need another good recruiting year to keep it going. If we have a bad one, we'll be back where we started."

For a good start, Craddock has signed to a conference letter West Virginian Chris Fox, who placed 17th while helping the United States win the World Junior Cross-Country Championsips in Dusseldof, West Germany.

American, coachless from November to February, came up with a vigorous leader in the Steve Lurie, former assistant at Manhattan and Seton Hall.

"I don't think anybody expects much of anything from us," Lurie said, "but I do and the kids do. I come here a winner and we may not be a winner right away, but we will be."

Besides hitting the recruiting trail. Lurie is trying to mold a contending relay team from among miler Clark Woods, the team captain, half-milers Garn Anderson, a soccer star from Crossland, and mark Jaeckel, and distance men Steve Weinstein and Frank Carver.

"Anderson's behind schedule because of indoor soccer," Lurie said. "He could murder the world dribbling a soccer ball around the track. Do you know anybody who's got that event?"

No, but there is a guy across town with problems similar to those Lurie is facing. Catholic coach Jerry McGee bid farewell to Robinson and Musgrove after some great times, and now the Cardinals' meal ticket is Richard Brody, the freshman out of Whitman High who swept the Maryland AA mile and 880 titles last spring. Brody, sixth in the Ic4A 1,000 indoors, will join Jerome Cole and Kevin Seraile as the foundation of a solid sprintmedley relay.