A meet is as good as the mile. That play on words has told the story of indoor track through the years and, if it still holds true, there promises to be a memorable meet in New York's Madison Square Garden tonight.

Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland, Filbert Bayi of Tanzania and Wilson Waigwa of Kenya are the outstanding men competing in the mile at the 90th National AAU Indoor Championships In the absence of indoor record-holder Dick Buerkle (3:54.9), out with a stress fracture, Mike Slack and Bruce Fischer are the primary American challengers.

Coghlan raced to a 3:56.0 mile in San Diego Friday and thinks he can go under 3:55 with spirited competition in New York.

"They're all going to want to get away from me, because of my kick, so it should be fast," Coghlan said."They'll have to try to run fast to kill me. This is a race I've been waiting for and I'm ready to win it."

Bayi, a winter-long disappointment, finally won a mile race in San Francisco Saturday and appears to be on the schedule he announced when he came to the United States in early January.

"I've been sick, and I was just married a few months ago," Bayi said, "and I'm here to run myself into shape. I expect to be in top form by your national championships."

Kevin Byrne, the Georgetown freshman who has been idled by flu, is entered in the mile. He has run the distance only once this winter, clocking 4:06.1 in the Millrose Games, and this race, according to coach Joe Lang, is a test to determine Byrne's potential for next week's IC4A meet.

The women's mile could rival the men's event for close competition, with Francie Larrieu and Jan Merrill renewing what has become a heated rivalry. Larrieu has already wrapped up the Vita'is award as the outstanding athlete of the indoor season, and she holds the world indoor record of 4:28.5.

The high jump offers the same potential for field-event excitement that the mile promises on the track.

Franklin Jacobs, indoor recordholder at 7 feet 7 1/4 inches, takes on Dwight Stones, who beat him with a 7-5 leap at San Francisco. Benn Fields and Kyle Anney are others capable of 7.5 or better.

"Now that I have the record, I'm jumping to win," said Jacobs, who stopped after clearing 6.10 for first place in the Metropolitan intercollegiate meet. "As soon as I win, I'm finished. If someone pushes me up to where I would have to break the record to win, that's fine."

The women, for a change, don't have to jump at midnight. They will occupy center track in the afternoon, which should enhance Joni Huntley's chances of breaking Rosemarie Ackermann's indoor mark of 6-4 3/4. Huntley has already had nine shots at 6-5 1/4, coming close several times.

Washington native Larry Shipp defends his 60-yard high hordles title against Charles Foster, who has promised to set a world record this year, either indoors or out. Renaldo Nehemiah of Maryland the indoor, recordholder, will be absent, since he competes Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference championships in Raleigh.

Houston McTear is the 60-yard favorite, Stan Vinson is expected to unseat two-time 600 defender Fred Sowerby and Al Feuerbach, heads the shot-put field. In the women's shot put, Maren Seidler is in peak form, following her 61-2 1/4 breakthrough in West Germany last month. No other American woman has ever topped 55 feet.