After all those years in the second-division of Big Eight football, Oklahoma State finally got up there with OU and the big boys in 1976: a piece of the conference title and a 9-3 campaign capped by a Tangerine Bowl victory over Brigham Young. And now the NCAA says it wouldn't have happened if Okalhoma State hadn't cheated.

The NCAA decreed two years' probation for the Stillwater school yesterday - no postseason games or television exposure in 1978 and 1979: only 25 football scholarships instead of 30 each year. Arthur R. Reynolds, chairman of the Infractions Committee, cited "a significant number of serious violations" (an NCAA spokesman said it was one of thet longest lists of infractions ever uncovered) and indicated committee members felt several O-State alumni engaged in "a willful effort" to circumvent recruiting restrictions.

And, yes, Reynolds made oblique reference to that one nip of success in '76, saying, "Accordingly, the committee does not believe the university should gain the benefit of this competitive advantage without realizing appropriate disciplinary action."

The order bars the school from accepting recruiting help for varying periods from "19 representatives of its athletic interests." In accordance with NCAA policy, none of the individuals involved was identified, but several have became publicly known during the course of the long investigation, and some have threatened to sue if the NCAA tries to enforce penalties. An undetermined number of assistant coaches are implicated, but the juicy parts involve boosters and alumni including merchant, attorney, contractor and banker types treating prospective OSU Cowboy athletes too richly.