Sometimes I get the feeling that the people who run professional sports believe the whole world is really dumb.

Not to pick on our suffering locals, but have you seen the Washington Capitals' advertisement for a "pennypincher" plan?

The Caps have this stupendous, terrific, all-around wonderful plan to sell us a 10-game package of tickets.

"For Sprots Fans Who Know the Value of a Dollar, the Puck Stops Here," the ad says.

Wow. A way to save money. Let's read on.

The first plan, "The $110 Pennypincher," gets you 10 game tickets at $9.50 a seat, plus 50 cents off the cost of parking for each game.

I wondered how big a deal that was for the sports fans who not only know the value of a dollar but know that the Caps, at 7-18-4, have the third-worst record in hockey.

Well, it's no deal at all.

The $9.50 ticket price is the same you'd pay even if you didn't join the Pennypincher Plan.

What the Caps are doing is saving you $5 of the $20 you'd normally pay for the privilege of parking somewhere in the wilds of Maryland, perhaps, if you get there early, within sight of Capital Centre.

There is one other saving. The Caps will give you half-price coupons for two of the 10 games, thereby saving you maybe another $9.50.

So, by signing up for the Pennypincher Plan and forking over $110, you save $14.50 at the most.

Seems to me the numbers ought to be reversed.

But then, a lot of things in pro sports today seem backwards.

Such as the playoff systems.

How dumb do they think we are, anyway?

More than half-34 of 67-of the teams in the National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association will qualify for the leagues' playoffs this season.

Of 28 NFL teams, 10 will be in this month's playoffs. That is up two from a year ago.

Once upon a time, before Dandy Don was regarded as Will Rogers with his bell rung, a football championship was a test of sport. Now it is a test of TV ratings.

Certainly, the best teams still win.

That is not the argument here. I'm steamed, being an old-fashioned dud, that the quality of sport is diluted.It is nonsense to pretend that a Washington-Atlanta rematch in a first-round playoff game is a necessary prelude to the Super Bowl.

Would Jascha Heifetz, before a violin concert, allow Minnie Pearl to run a tune on her washboard?

He would if Pete Rozelle were the commissioner of music.

The NFL playoffs are Rozelle's con game. By selling the Super Bowl so well, the NFL has created in each league city a mad desire to play in The Ultimate Game. So Rozelle and the TV folks, working in cahoots, then capitalized on th e Super Bowl madness by creating a playoff system taht keeps virtually every team in the running until the last two weeks of the season.

Only, those teams really aren't in the running to win the Super Bowl. They are in the running to make the first round of the playoffs. But somehow the NFL convinced the television audiences that making the playoffs is a big deal.

The next step, of course, was to get more teams into the playoffs. The "widl card" was invented, allowing a divison's second-place team to get into the playoffs. This year, another wild-card team was added, making it possible for a third-place team to stay alive.

Of 17 National Hockey League teams, 12 will make the playoffs. Last season two teams that lost more games than they won still qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the NBA, 12 of the 22 teams go into the playoffs. Two teams finished fourth in their respective divisions and still made it.

Only baseball has treated its customers with any respect.

Though it did create a league championship series in both the National and American leagues, the participants yet were champions of their divisions.

That may change soon. Because the TV people want it, baseball is considering changing each league to three divisons. The three champions plus a wild-card team (how it hurts to type that) would go through two rounds of playoffs to qualify for the World Series.

The quality of sport will suffer. With a wild-card rule in effect last season, the classic Boston-New York series at season's end would have meant nothing. Both would have been in the playoffs already.

But what's the quality of sport when there is TV money to be had? If the hockey fans are silly enough to go for a pennypincher plan that saves them only 50 cents on a $25 ngiht (two tickets, eats, drinks), then the TV PEOPEL MUST THINK WE'RE ALL READY TO BE CONNED FOREVER.

I SAY ONLY THIS:

AS A ST. LOUIS CARDINAL BASEBALL BATTIE, I EAGERLY AWAIT THE DAY THE NATIONAL LEAGUE BREAKS DOWN INTO 12 ONE-TEAM DIVISIONS.

MAYBE WE'LL HAVE A CHANCE THEN.