The trouble with writing about the athletic director's job at the University of Maryland is that only a handful of readers care. As far as most sports fans know, an athletic director is the old guy who arranges shuffleboard games on cruises to the Bahamas. These fans want football bowl games and they'll hang the basketball coach if he keeps losing to those toads from Chapel Hill. But the athletic director? Who cares?

To answer a question with several, who hired Lefty Driesell? Who hired Jerry Claiborne? Who hired a fund raiser who has increased donations to the athletic department from $29,000 to more than $700,000? Who hired a promotions director whose imagination made Maryland one of the few healthy college programs in a pro city?

The athletic director did.

Jim Kehoe did.

Oh, they probably had committees and groups and assorted think-alongs.

But the athletic director of any university is the man ultimately responsible for such decisions.

So Jim Kehoe loved it when Jerry Claiborne's football teams went to five straight bowl games. And he loved it when Lefty Driesell's basketball teams won six tons of games. It was good for Kehoe, too, that his fund raiser, Tom Fields, lifted more money than a three-handed pickpocket. And Russ Potts, the promotion man, made all of Kehoe's work worthwhile by convincing a befuddled public - the Caps tonight or the Dips or the Redskins? - that Maryland was good at its gig.

Then Kehoe quit this summer.

Retired at 60.

A surprise.

So much a surprise that Potts, the heir apparent, had taken the atletic director's job at SMU the day before. He dearly wanted the Maryland job, but was convinced Kehoe wasn't ready to retire. Then Potts felt he had to honor his commitment to SMU.

Maryland began scrambling for a new athletic director.

Basketball coaches are everywhere. Turn over a pair of sneakers and you have the next Digger Phelps ready to save your program.

Anybody who ever shook hands with Bear Bryant thinks he's ready to coach your football team.

But an athletic director?

Almost nobody is that crazy.

Athletic directors can't win. They are asked to runa $3-million business (an intercollegiate athletics program may have, say, 23 sports). And a recent study showed that 97 percent of all universities operate athletics at a deficit.

Imagine. Twenty-three sports, 23 coaches, all shouting for more, more, more money.

No wonder nobody applied for Kehoe's job.

Well, Maryland does have four finalists, according to the news reports.

The finalists are distinguished mainly by their anonymity.

The man said to be No. 1 on the list, Moyer Smith, is also said to be no better than No. 3 in the University of North Carolina athletic administration.

Another candidate, Carl James, reportedly was forced to resign as athletic director by his alma mater, Duke, last summer.

A third candidate, Bill Campbell, has never worked at all in athletic administration.

Some Maryland loyalists took at the field of candidates and then cast wishful eyes upon Tom Fields, the fund raiser hired by Kehoe in August of 1970.

They would like Fields to take over where his old college roommate left off.

Fields says he ain't that crazy.

"It made an old man out of Kehoe down there," said Fields, who described himself as "a young, tough 60." "I don't need it . . . I'd rather stay the fund raiser."

Without all the details and haggling of the athletic director's job . . . with a staff of three helping him . . . without worrying that a basketball coach's failure might cost him his job . . . Fields has done work that is essential to Maryland's success the past decade.

It could be argued, in fact, that Fields is more valuable raising money than he would be as athletic director.

Consider the numbers. Fields said the Maryland Educational Foundation, which is the fancy name for athletic donations used to pay for scholarships, raised $29,000 the year before he took over. Since then, he said, the fund in successive years has raised $100,000, $165,000, $256,000, $350,000, $500,000, $630,000 and $700,000.

And this year, Fields said, he will raise "somewhere between $700,000 and $800,000.

The total for eight years is a minimum $3.4 million.

"No athletic director is going to look very good if he can't pay his bills," Fields said. "And inflation is gobbling you up while the means of revenue are drying up."

Basketball is sold out at Maryland, he said. A significant increase in football tickets is unlikely. Ticket prices can't be raised this year. The limits of promotion have been reached, he said.

"One of the few avenues left is to increase the fund-raising money," Fields said. "There should be no limit to what you can raise in Washington."

The new athletic director, whoever he turns out to be, will be happy to hear that.