With the help of a rule change and the addition of a second referee, the outlook for the United States in water polo in 1980 is exellent.

"Only thing we're going for is the gold in '80," said the AAU's waterpolo chairman, Bert Shaw. "It will be an out-and-out farce in Moscow if we don't win a medal, and I think the world will be shocked if we don't win."

Coming off a second-place finish at the FINA (international swimming's governing body) World Cup last month in Yugoslavia, the U.S. outlook suddenly is execellent.

That is remarkable, because the U.S. team failed to qualify for the 1976 Olympics and has won only one Olympic medal since 1932, that in Munich when the Americans won the bronze.

Monte Nitzkowski, the AAU-appointed coach for 1976-1980, said, "The FINA cup was a preview of the Olympics. Our second-place finish was a giant step in the right direction for us."

Nitzkowski, 49, and an Olympic swimmer in the 1952 Helsinki Games, said second place was even more impressive because the Americans played with very little rest. They left Los Angeles and traveled to Belgrade, competed and returned, all within 14 days. They battled the 1976 Olympic champion Hungarians before losing, 4-3, in the final.

The U.S. qualified for the Moscow Olympics last summer at the world championships in West Berlin by finishing fifth.

Nitzkowski and Shaw said the second referee and the use of a 35-second clock would be the keys to a U.S. gold in Moscow.

"We now have two referees during a match instead of one," Nitzkowski said. "This really helps because now no one official can dominate the outcome of a match."

The 35-second clock, the same as a 24-second clock in basketball, works to the U.S. advantage because Americans' depend more on moving the ball while Europeans tend to set up patterns and muscle their way toward the goal.

The U.S. has a 30-member national team that is picked after every outdoor national championship in August. Currently, all these players are from California, primarily because that is the only state in which the sport is played at a high school level.

"A player does not peak in the sport until his late 20s or early 30s," Nitzkowski said. "What he loses in speed he gains in quickness and knowledge, so he is actually faster."

Most of the U.S. players are either college graduates or now in school. There are no high school players on the national team, although there is a junior national team training for the 1982 world championships and the 1984 Olympics. Most of the players come from the ranks of competitive swimming.

"Our players generally are quicker, faster and have better mobility," Nitzkowski said. "But they lack some of the basic fundamentals. The Europeans shoot better than we do, and they have stronger legs and get much higher out of the water."

The toughest competition in Moscow is expected to come from Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

"They (the Russians) will be very tough at home," Nitzkowski said.