Title 9, a federal law barring sex discrimination by colleges and school systems receiving federal aid, was enacted im 1972. Ever since, athletic departments at America's universites have been trying to deal with the complicated law.

Title 9 has had a major impact on the growth of women's sports on the collegiate level and also has been a constant source of controversy.

Athletic programs at three area schools and UCLA were recently examined to see how they are coping with Title 9.

Although Carl James has been Maryland's athletic director for less than a year, he has followed the evolution of women's sports were from the cramped cubbyholes of Preinkert Field House to the larger cubbyholes of Cole Field House.

Maryland's women's program has come a long way since the fall day in 1975 when the coordinator of the program and three of the women's coaches quit in protest over plans to give women athletic scholarships.

The program has gone from four sports to nine, the budget from $30,000 to $293,000, and the women's coaches from the oblivion of Preinkert to the formerly men-only Cole.

Recalling the 1975 furor over scholarships, James remarked, "I think some of the women thought we were trying to create a monster by throwing them into athletic recruiting and high-level competition without letting them evolve naturally."

The phenomenon was not peculiar to Maryland, however.

"There was a lot of frustration in the beginning because in order to have a quality intercollegiate program, you had to have skilled student-athletes anc coaches," James said.

Female athletes' skills were not as honed and there wasn't the interest in women's sports in 1972 when Title 9 became law that there is today. Part of the problem was that some coaches-especially the older ones-had not really been trained to coach, having been barred from such courses over the decades.

A philosophical rift developed over the preferred way to increase athletic opportunities for women. The "physical education" school was fairly content with the status quo, emphasizing lifelong benefits of sports. The other faction agreed, but also wanted women to have the benefits routinely associated with the men's programs.

Despite their differing philosphies, both sides were determined they would "not make the same mistakes the men did" when drawing up AIAW rules governing women's intercollegiate sports.

Now the problem, as James sees it - and he is not alone - is that the AIAW rules are so different from the NCAA's that there is a predicament in applying Title 9.

On recruiting, for example, the NCAA allows colleges to pay for a male athlete's visit to the campus, but the AIAW forbids such expenses for a female recruit.

"I don't like the fact that a student can't be paid to visit your school, said Chris Weller, Maryland's assistant athletic director for women's sports and the women's basketball coach.

"It (the prohibition) restricts the poorer people who can't afford to go visiting colleges. As a result, too many kids wind up at the wrong school, some place that isn't right for them." Matching Rules Unwanted

But Weller, like virtually all her counterparts across the country, does not want the women's rules changed to match the men's. She says it would open a Pandora's box of scandals such as have often have marred men's college sports, and result in a de-emphsis of the educational aspects of the athletic program.

"I don't like the men's rules, I don't like some of the women's rules," Weller said. "They spend too much. We don't spend anywhere near what they do and I don't think we could if we got that much money for recruiting alone."

Recruiting is one of the financially measurable categories that would require equal per capita spending based on the number of male and female participants. The Title 9 proposals would allow a college to spend unequal amounts it if resulted from nondiscriminatory factors.

Because the money spent on recruiting does not always directly benefit the athlete, HEW reportedly is considering lumping it into the general "financially measurable" category for applying the per capita standard rather than treating it separately.

As it stands now, identical recruiting methods are not required, but differences in per capita spending that result in discrimination cannot be excused because the AIAW and NCAA have different rules.

Closely linked to recruiting is the "scope of competition" issue, one of the nondiscriminatory defenses HEW allows colleges to use to justify different expenses.

Because the scope may vary from local regional or national competition, the costs of travel, lodging and publicity also may differ.

Many women believe the scope section is just a loophole for colleges to force some women's sports to remain at the money-saving lower levels despite the Title 9 mandate to upgrade their programs and meet their athletes' interests and abilities.

The men's basketball team, like the football team, can be assured certain financial guarantees in some contests just for showing up, plus other revenue from broadcasting and gate receipts. Transportation and lodging also may be paid, as in the case of bowl games.

"If we were going to play UCLA in football, we realize it would be good for the school, we'd get exposure on television and other benefits," James said. "But we wouldn't do any of that if we don't get guarantees from (most) women's sports.

"So how do you compute that (in the per capita formula)? How do you compute these other things we don't control such as different recruiting costs caused by different rules?

"What are you going to tell those two organizations if you break their rules?" he asked.

James said the women's basketball team has not drawn as well as hoped, but that the university will "continue to improve our efforts to showcase it: They have gone to Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden and the Orange Bowl this year. They have good equipment, bright and attractive uniforms and good coaching. We still have a problem of public acceptance at this point." James Won't Scrimp

Nonetheless, James said, he would not scrimp on the women's teams: the nationally ranked basketball team was the runner-up in the AIAW championships last year; the lacrosse team finished second, the track team was in the top 10, indoor and outdoor.

Maryland-which has a Title 9 complaint filed against it by the father of an athlete-is planning to build women's dressing rooms in Cole Field House and new field hockey, soccer and lacrosse fields.

James said Maryland is spending the same for both sexes on aid, recruiting, training, equipment, uniforms and publicity. When the cost of football is added, however, the men's budget almost doubles.

There are 95 full grants for football and 80 full grants for other men's sports. There are 100 full grants for women.

In the fiscal year ending last July, there were 339 men and 200 women in varsity sports. The college spent $651,811 to operate the men's program an $172.271 on the women's.

Additionally, Maryland spent $120,746 on financial aid for the women, or $603 per woman. The amount for the men was $534,562 or $1,576 per man.

"I think we've gotten what we needed," said Weller. "I don't think we've done all we will be doing because Maryland is short on space for facilities right now.

"We've had good support, but the program still needs improvement and we will improve. We've been nationally competitive, so we haven't been cheated."

But she is perturbed by the general attacks on the Title 9 financial proposals. Title 9, she says, "hasn't changed in its interpretations and guidelines since it started. I don't know why people are having trouble determining what it means.

"Sometimes I wonder if the people who are worrying about every little detail aren't purposely stalling. Some schools have just gone ahead and made adjustments and been fair about it, like Maryland has."

The essence of Title 9, she says, "is that every athlete should be supported whole-heartedly, there should be equal facilities, coaching, equipment and so on. That's compliance."

Maryland, she says, has complied. CAPTION: Illustration, No Caption, By William Coulter for The Washington Post