"You'd think we were planning the design of a secret weapon," said Georgetown's John Thompson. "Hey, this is a simple basketball tournament. Let's get on with it."

It does seem so simple. Maryland wanted to start a season-opening, so-called area basketball tournament, so it asked Georgetown, Navy and George Washington to join in. Since those schools already play the Terrapins during the regular season, why not switch instead to a November tournament at Capital Centre?

But nothing is ever easy in scheduling, especially among area colleges. Every school is so diligently trying to safeguard its own interests that, in the process, the tournament concept is going down the drain.

And that is unfortunate, because an area tournament, even with just four schools, would be a stimulus for fan interest.

The Terrapins have never shown any interest in an area tournament since Lefty Driesell became coach, but times have changed. Athletic director Jim Kehoe and Driesell now see a way they can use the tournament to solve several recurring scheduling problems. So suddenly the tourney concept is, as Kehoe puts it, "a great idea for area schools."

But not an area tournament involving every Division I school. Just the colleges on Maryland's schedule, which leaves out American, Howard and Catholic.

By arranging the tournament, the Terrapins would wind up with an additional open date on their schedule. That date could be used for another home game against an easy opponent, or possibly for an attractive national-television contest.

As a result, Maryland could have a schedule every year that would include just six legitimate road games - all against ACC opponents. The remaining contests would either be at Colo Field House (as many as 18) or at Capital Centre (the two tournament games). It would mean more money for Kehoe's treasury, and more easy wins for Driesell.

Maryland can try this obvious power play because it has leverage: a big-time name, a strong team and a 14,500-seat arena that enables the Terrapins to hand out large guarantees if they want to. It's a tough combination for any other area school to match.

Georgetown and Navy agreed to the tournament idea because they want to continue to play Maryland, something that was becoming more difficult to arrange.

None of those schools wants to play on the other guy's home court unless the favor will be returned. Since Maryland hates low-income road games, the only solution has been to schedule the confrontations at Capital Centre, where the contests have not drawn well.

But there is more. Maryland doesn't want to play Georgetown in January or February, which is when Georgetown wants the game. And Navy is willing to agree to play Maryland in a home-and-home series only if the Terrapins drop their insistence on making Capital Centre, not Annapolis, Navy's home court. It goes on and on from there.

Georgetown's decision to play in the area tournament startled a lot of local athletic directors, who have been unable to put together their own local tourney because of Georgetown's refusal to go along.

However, Maryland was never included in any of the previous proposals.

American, which long has been pushing the tournament concept, was upset - and rightly so - that it was not included among the original four teams. So when GW dropped out and AU was invited, the Eagles could use their moment of power to twist Maryland around.

GW resented Maryland's attempt to drop a two-year contract between the schools. Because the first game of that contract will be a Smith Center in December, the Colonials, justifiably, felt Maryland was doing its best to squirm out of a road game.

Since GW can make some $16,000 off the contest, it told the Terrarpins, "no way."

Maryland, in turn, is telling GW it won't schedule the Colonials any more in basketball once the contract runs out. The lesson here is: don't cross Jim Kehoe.

Now that everyone has had their fun there is a chance to salvage the tournament. The athletic directors are still conversing, trying to come up with a solution.

If they can't, there is a negotiator available who is adept at handling such complex problems: Henry Kissinger.