The Army-Navy game usually is the most important part of Army's football season. But this year, it is the least of West Point problems.

The Army football program is under NCAA investigation as a result of allegations made a year ago by Homer Smith, former head coach, and it is under duress as a result of a 2-7-1 record so far this season.

Last December, Smith, who was fired after a 28-0 loss to Navy, went public with allegations that the academy had violated NCAA recruiting regulations. Since then, an NCAA investigator found that most of Smith's allegations were true. Army faces several unresolved problems:

An NCAA investigator found that Army had violated regulations limiting the number of paid one-time visits by football prospects to 95 by more than 50 percent.

Former coaching aides say Army covered up violations before Smith went public with them. Richard Bowman, former assistant head coach under Smith, said. "They swept it under the rug."

Three former coaches say that West Point removed a black assistant coach of his recruiting duties in Texas and Arkansas because of his race.

Morale, which suffered in the mid-1970s because of the involvement of members of the football team in a "cheating scandal" and a telephone credit card scandal, has remained low because of the ongoing NCAA investigation.

Lt. Col. Jere Forbus, the public affairs officer at West Point, acknowledged in an interview that there were some recruiting violations. He said, however, that West Point officials do not believe anything was done wrong intentionally, and that violations apparently occurred because of differing interpretations of NCAA regulations.

Smith, who did not control the recruiting, even though he was head coach, acknowledges the violations were not willful at their inception. "If they want to claim lack of knowledge (about the violations), they have to realize that the head football coach was going around sounding off for two years," while the violations were continuing, he said.

The NCAA investigations, which may take another six months to complete, is to determine whether the violations were intentional and whether to take action against West Point.

Sources close to the probe say that the NCAA believes Smith is factually correct in most of his allegations but that if the violations are found to have been inadvertent the sanctions could be minor.

The NCAA investigation stalled in August when Michael Mesh, the investigator who had been working on the case for eight months, was fired two weeks after finding what he called "dynamite" evidence in the case.

Mesh, 33, who had been an enforcement agent for 2 1/2 years when he was fired, said last month, "About 95 percent of what Homer Smith alleged, I found to have been true."

If the NCAA finds that Army violated the ruled, the NCAA committee on infractions could preclude the televising of the Army-Navy game by putting Army on one-year's probation.

The allegations made by Smith, now a divinity student at Harvard, and the NCAA investigation into them are only part of what might be called an anatomy of a failure. A close look at Army football during the years 1974-78 reveals a program beset, by bitterness dissension, disorganization and dispute, all of which, former coaches say, contributed to a record of 21-33-1 during Smith's tenure.

When Homer Smith left UCLA, where he had been an assistant coach, to come to Army in 1974, he inherited a team that had an 0-10 record the year before. His first season was uneventful, the Cadets finished 3-8.

The following season, several members of the football team made personal credit telephone calls using credit cards given to them by members of the coaching staff for the purpose of making recruiting calls to prospects, coaches say.

One star player made $900-$1,000 worth of calls, and was suspended from the team for the season, coaches say. Other players also feared suspension. The events coaches say, disrupted the entire season.

At the time the player was suspended, "we were 2-0 and rolling," said John Wade, a former assistant coach.

The Cadets lost their remaining nine games.

In 1976, West Point was rocked by the biggest cheating scandal in its history, in which more than 150 students were expelled. Four of them, including Stan Ford, the captain of the football team, were starters on the 1975 squad.

Quarterback Earle Mulrane, who was a plebe in 1976, said, "The honor scandal didn't help. We don't have the depth that other teams have. Losing four starters was losing a lot."

The Cadets recorded another losing season, finishing 5-6. Worse, they were beaten by Navy for the fourth year in a row.

During the offseason, Smith, who was finishing the third year of a four-year contract, was given an ultimatum. The minutes of his meeting with the Military Athletic Board on Jan. 21, 1977, read in part: "For a season a won-lost record, including the win over Navy, of seven wins and four losses was proposed by the commandant and unanimously agreed to by the board. It was clearly stated that anything less than this would be unsatisfactory."

"It was not exactly a vote of confidence," said Lt. Col. Forbus.

It had the effect of changing, "the mission from rebuilding to survival," said Smith.

Unlike many head coaches, Smith was not in charge of recruiting for the football team at West Point. That job belonged to Tad Schroeder, an assistant athletic director in charge of admissions support who was in charge of recruiting for all sports. Schroeder, who had worked at West Point in the 1960s, reported to the athletic director, not to the head coach.

"I was not in control," said Smith, who adopted what he calls a position of "nonviolent resistance" to programs he came to believe were in violation of NCAA rules. "I did not go on a sit-down strike," he said. "I spoke against it, and wrote against it, and when it was my turn to make the decisions, I made them according to the law."

Beginning in the spring of 1976 and continuing through the fall of 1977, Smith wrote a series of memos to the football staff expressing his concern about possible NCAA violations.

In a memo titled "About How to Avoid Violations of NCAA Rules, dated April 15, 1976, Smith wrote, "Unless exactitude in keeping rules begins at West Point, where will it begin?

"On the nonpaid visits do with the prospects whatever the Admission Office does, give a tour, buy one meal and kiss goodbye." The memo ends with the statement, "Be advised, I do not plan to go to jail because someone cannot learn the rules."

The question of paid and nonpaid visits alluded to in the memo is the crux of Smith's most serious allegations. NCAA regulations permit only 95 fully paid visits each year by football prospects. According to Smith, West Point exceeded that number in both 1976 and 1977.

In the course of his NCAA investigation, Mesh says he found that more than 150 prospects had visited West Point in 1977. He found 95 were official visits, and others labeled either Nos, Med or PAEs.

Mesh based his finding on a 1977 recruiting list that includes the names of those prospects and money spent on them, ranging from $16 to $140.

"There was on kid (on the list) from Florida, who had an expense of $103 and it had a 'no' next to his name and I wanted to know why," Mesh said.

When he asked for an explanation of the "nos" on the list, Mesh said, Athletic Director Gen. Ray Murphy "told me that the nos meant no official visit" and the money had been spent by the coaches on entertainment for themselves and their wives.

"I said we would consider this an official visit," Mesh said, "and he became very flustered."

Mesh then asked to see the vouchers for all the names on the list including those labeled No, Medical and PAE. He said he was told they would be sent to him at NCAA headquarters. He was fired before they arrived.

Unlike other schools, the Military Academy requires that all candidates for nomination take a medical and a physical aptitude exam (PAE).

Most candidates who came to West Point on their own for these exams "bought their own meals and stayed in the barracks," Smith said. "When we brought our medical and PAE people in, we were letting them participate in the weekend with all the regular-paid visitors and they ended up eating five, six meals. That wasn't right. We were taking advantage of the NCAA rules."

There are no specific guidelines in the NCAA handbook regulating medical or PAE visits. Schroeder siad, "Whatever was going on at West Point was within the rules as interpreted by me at the time. That's the whole key, it's a matter of interpretation."

Dick Bowman, former assistant coach, said, "That's a good rationalization.

It's a great way to bring a guy in. Let's bring this one in on NCAA because he has to come in from California, and there's no way he's going to visit unless we fly him in. Here's a guy from New Jersey, let's bring him in on a PAE and get a good look at him and have him visit the school.

"This would be a great way to circumvent the rules because this means you can double up."

Lt. Col. Forbus said that the Army had found that their accounting procedures for the visits had not been sophisticated enough and had been corrected.

In a memo dated Oct. 15, 1976, Smith wrote, "NCAA rules are a huge problem, and at this time, I do not feel (I have) the control that I must have to keep us from being as much as accused . . . We will be extremely careful with our civilian prep school prospects."

Because the service academies have difficulty competing with other schools for blue-chip athletes, the NCAA instituted a special rule in the 1960s allowing them to use alumni contributions to enroll a prospective candidate in a civilian prep school.

The NCAA rule also stipulates that the number of "candidates with recognized ability assisted each year . . . shall be in equal ratio to the number of student athletes in the regular intercollegiate squads of the academy compared to the total enrollment of the academy."

In the course of his investigation, Mesh was unable to "locate one non-recruited athlete in West Point's civilian prep school program."

"We were treating prep school players just like they were already in the academy," said Smith. "We would drive over to get them, bring them to West Point for their visits. We just didn't apply the NCAA rules to the prep schools."

Smith said that program might have been legal in the 1960s but that the interpretations of the rules changed. Bowman agreed. "I remember talking with (interim athletic director) Bill Call about the prep school program," Bowman said. "It was a surprsie to him. I showed him the guidelines. We were off base."

Call, who is retired from the Army and living in New Hampshire, does not recall "Coach Bowman spelling that out to me."

Schroeder, then the director of recruiting, said, "If you read the NCAA regulations, it has nothing to do with whether they are athletes when they go in."

Schroeder said that because "less than 25 percent of the people who were encouraged to attend prep schools earned varsity letters" the academy was not in violation.

"That is the position we were operating under," said Forbus.

In a memo dated Nov. 23, 1977, Smith voiced concern about the number of staffers recruiting on the road. NCAA regulations permit 11 coaches -- including the head coach -- to recruit on the road. According to Smith, 16 different members of the athletic staff, including the director of recruiting and the coach of the 150-pound football team, recruited during the 1977 season.

In October 1977, the coaching staff obtained a copy of a redesigned recruiting map that showed the six civilian football coaches had been replaced by military coaches.

Bowman, who called the map "the most unprofessional thing that I had seen in my coaching career," explained, "Homer had been given an ultimatum to win seven ball games and they did not think he was going to be able to win seven. That's why in the middle of the season that map came out where all the coaches were replaced."

Sources say the map was drawn up as a contingency plan in the expectation that Smith would be fired at the end of the season.

However, according to Bowman, "the civilian coaches did not stop recruiting. That's why you get more than 10 guys recruiting."

Forbus said, "there were never more than 11 (recruiting) at one time."

One of the assistant coaches removed from the recruiting map was a black military coach, Lt. Larry Lock. His removal, according to Bowman, Smith and Wade, was motivated by racial considerations.

"I was called into a meeting and was told it was going to be done," Smith said. "I accepted it and went down and told the staff. I had an earthquake on my hands. I could see Larry Lock leaning over my desk and saying, 'It is because I'm black?" and I said, "Yes, Larry.'"

"It was spelled out that it was because of anticipated negative reaction on the part of West Point people in Texas who were potential donators," Smith said. He said he refused to comply with the request after thinking about it for 24 hours.

Bowman, who had assigned Lock to the Texas-Arkansas territory, said, "he was a natural there" because that is where Lock is from.

John Wade, who was the only black civilian coach on the staff, said, "He (Lock) has been through the wringer on this. I tried to rationalize it, and think of reasons why they would do something like that. None had any weight except that they didn't want Larry Lock there because of his race."

Lock, who still is at West Point, declined to comment.

Lt. Col. Forbus said, "My best information is that it was not done on the basis of anyone being black."

In November 1977, with the Cadets on their way to a 7-4 season, and Smith on his way to meeting his ultimatum, he wrote in a memo: "Jim Lampley (of ABC) asked me how it was recruiting against schools where alumni want the job done regardless of the methods, at a school where there must be exactitude in keeping rules . . . To me, we break rules willy-nilly."

The following month. Smith said he went to the superintendent of West Point, Lt. Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster, and said, "We are really asking for trouble. There are violations."

"I told the superintendent that it was a lot of small things," Smith said, "but that it was a lot of things."

Goodpaster instructed his inspector general, Col. Edward Hart, to investigate. Hart, who now is on the faculty of the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va., said the investigation took "maybe a month and a half."

Hart presented the report to Gen. Goodpaster "for such actions as he deemed appropriate" but it was never shown to Homer Smith or the NCAA.

According to Mesh, the NCAA was not made aware that an internal investigation took place until December 1978 when he was assigned to the case. When Mesh asked why the NCAA had not, been informed, he said Herbert Perritt, chief of staff of the military academy, told him, "we fumbled the ball."

Hart, who refused to comment on the findings or substance of his investigation, said that the report was not released because "the relationship between an IG and his commander is pretty confidential."

Hart did brief the coaching staff on his results. Hart found, according to Forbus, that the coach of the 150-pound football team had been recruiting and that "our accounting procedures had not been sufficiently precise to ensure that we had completely met all those dictates and thus there could have been a violation" regarding the number of visits. Forbus said both had been remedied.

A year later, Mesh was briefed on the Hart report and was told the same thing. "It was very insignificant as compared with what had been alleged," Mesh said.

Smith believed at the time Hart made his report, and is convinced now, in light of the evidence Mesh says he found, that "there was a cover-up (of the violations) just like I said there was.

"Dick Bowman walked into my office when that little meeting was over," Smith said, "and said, 'Cover-up, cover-up.'"

Bowman does not believe that the Hart report "was a sham." Rather, he said, it was a case of there being "two stars above him and two stars won out." s

Schroeder, the recruiting chief, resigned from West Point in March 1978 and Smith took over recruiting for the football team. Smith maintains that the year he was in charge there were exactly 95 paid visits "because I counted them myself" but that other violations continued, including those involving the prep school programs and recruiting on the road by the 150-pound team coach and the new director of recruiting.

The 1977 football season ended in turmoil. Having met the ultimatum, the coaching staff expected a new three-or four-year contract, Bowman said. Smith received a one-year extension of his contract only after he retained a lawyer, he said. He accepted the contract knowing that it would hinder his recruiting efforts, and that only two of his six civilian coaches would be returning. He had been ordered to fire two of them, he said, and refused. Several coaches resigned.

The tragedy, said Bowman, one of those to leave, "was that we had turned it around. We were 7-4. But they dismantled it."

In 1978, the Cadets finished 4-6-1. On the Sunday after the 28-0 loss to Navy, Smith told the team he would not be back. On Monday, the Athletic Board met and decided not to renew his contract.It also happened to be the day Smith's brother was killed in an automobile accident.

In response to Smith's allegation several weeks after his dismissal, the NCAA began an official investigation directed by Mesh, and the Army began its second in-house investigation, under the direction of Col. Robert W. Berry, in the legal department.

Col. Berry did not interview either Col. Hart, who supervised the first investigation, or Schroeder. Schroeder refused to speak with Berry because, he said, "I do not think it is fair for me to answer questions about charges Homer Smith made after I left."

Col. Berry was not available for comment.

Schroeder said he had not been interviewed by the NCAA.

Berry's investigation was completed in April, according to Forbus, and delivered to the NCAA in Kansas in May. At that time, Mesh said, West Point requested a meeting with him and his superiors "so that we could see what they had uncovered."

They really felt they had not done anything seriously wrong, Mesh said. "They had a news release prepared, subject to our approval, and they basically wanted us to say we concurred."

According to Mesh, David Berst, the director of enforcement said, "It looks to me like there are things of substance and there are things that merit investigation and the release of this would be impossible at this time."

Forbus said that he prepares press releases routinely in the event that one might be needed and that the one in question was merely a draft. "Why would I have a bogus press release if I planned to give the whole thing to the press?" he said.

Mesh's investigation continued until he was fired on Aug. 10. Sources at the academy say they were not told about his firing and learned of it only by way of rumor.

Smith learned of it when he called the NCAA to speak with Mesh. In October, Smith called the NCAA again to inquire about the status of the investigation. Three weeks later, shortly after congressional inquiries had been made, a new investigator visited Smith at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Smith says that when he asked Mel Dodd, the new investigator, why there had been no one working on the case since August, Dodd replied that the NCAA was understaffed.

There are those who dismiss Smith's allegations and question his motives. And there are those who believe in the academy's good intentions and standards.

Others say that Smith's allegations, even if they were ultimately proven to be true, are minor compared to what goes on at other schools.

George Storck, an assistant director of athletics at West Point, said, "The type of things that came out in the allegations are like jaywalking, when you have murder, rape and incest."

Steve Axman, former assistant coach now at the University of Illinois, said, "It's been blown out of proportion. There were things that were out-right violations, and things that were construed as interpretations that perhaps we didn't have the right to make. Are they covering up? I don't know. But one thing is ridiculous. The cheating that goes on at other schools is incredible compared to what goes on at West Point."

Bowman has a different view: "Any infraction at West Point is a major infraction. We teach them not to lie, cheat or steal. There were infractions. We messed up. We were going to self-correct. But they swept it under the rug."

Smith, whom Bowman calls a "moral man," says he does not understand "the thinking that this was just a little bit wrong, and relatively minor," especially, he says, when you "contrast it with what they expect from their cadets."

The West Point honor code requires one cadet to report another if he is caught cheating. And that, says Smith, was all he was trying to do.