For years, much of sport has been frustrated by the indifference college presidents have shown their athletic departments, by their willingness to bask in the glory of their teams without establishing and enforcing firm guidelines and policies. They may be unable to stay out of touch much longer.

The last 13 months, or beginning when Woody Hayes punched a Clemson linebacker during the Gator Bowl, have spotlighted the seamy aspects of intercollegiate athletics as no other in recent memory.

From Hayes through Chuck Fairbanks through Frank Kush through the grade-doctoring mess at New Mexico and at least a half-dozen other schools, the common thread had been the apparent neglect of authorities beyond the athletic department.

This leads to some obvious questions: Are the alumni more powerful than the president at most schools? Where are the academic checks that should make situations such as that at New Mexico aberratons instead of almost monthly items?

"The presidents are abdicating their responsibilities," said a former coach and longtime basketball executive. "They have to have known what's gone on at places such as Arizona State and New Mexico. They've lost sight of what college is supposed to be all about. All that matters is the bottom line.

"I'm frightened about where all this is going to lead. When the athletes all of a sudden realize who is making how much money from all these games, I don't know."

Some of the athletes already know who makes how much. The most potentially damning quote of all came from a former New Mexico basketball player, Everett Jefferson, who said of pay-offs to himself and teammates:

"We were 11-point underdogs last year at Las Vegas and we won by three points. Some of the boosters would win $2,000 or $3,000 that game. What's the matter with the players getting $50 or $100 for making them rich?"

Yesterday, New Mexico state prosecutors said their investigation of the university is aimed, in addition to point shaving and gambling, at possible "false travel vouchers, welfare fraud, payments and loans to athletes, irregularities with season tickets and conflicts of interest in the athletic department."

One of the investigations reportedly involves the Lobos' 90-85 loss to Cal State-Fullerton in the 1977-78 NCAA regional playoffs. New Mexico was a 16-point favorite.

Many coaches, among them Indiana's Bobby Knight, believe the win-at-all-costs attitude that seems all too popular now has created the atmosphere for another nationwide point-shaving scandal.

In addition to the NCAA, the FBI is investigating many of the recent allegations, for gambling ties. And interest at HEW has been piqued, by the possibilities of schools using federal money improperly.

And whether the government ought to be underwriting college athletic departments, whether it ought to be helping them pay for the education of power forwards and nose tackles.

It happens, through the clearly legal Basic Educational Opportunities Grants.

Many athletes come from poor environments and are eligible for the BEOGs, which range from a few hundred dollars to $1,800 per year. The BEOGs sometimes pay a third to a half of an athlete's scholarship.

Maryland estimates about 20 of its 95 football players qualify for BEOGs. Sources indicate ACC schools each save $20,000 to $30,000 a year because of BEOGs. It is not beyond reason to imagine millions of dollars in government funds going primarily to athletes.

Athletic department officials often work harder and are more aware of the scholarship angles at a school. But should an athlete whose way would be paid anyway by the athletic department also be eligible for BEOG money?

It is fashionable, although the trend hardly is rampant, for schools to encourage athletes to relinquish their scholarships, pay their way and then take off-campus jobs. The NCAA permits this, as long as the athlete does the prescribed work and is not paid above the going wage.

The chances for abuse are great, given that most players have enough trouble finding time for classes, study and practice each day. West Texas State was penalized for the tactic when a basketball player from Detroit was paid "an excessive amount" for working in the oil fields.

For perspective, it should be realized that college athletic cheating is older than the NCAA itself. Probably, there have been no innovations in chicanery in years. A UCLA halfback played under his brother's name in the 1930s.

In a series called "Buying Football Victories," Colliers reported two players enrolling in college before they graduated from high school. That was at the University of Chicago, in 1905.

With this in mind, Tom Hansen, assistant executive director of the NCAA, was asked whether the recent revelations about New Mexico, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah and others were the worst. Southwestern Louisiana, after all, was judged guilty of more than 140 NCAA violations in 1973.

"I'm not sure," he said. "Anytime there is academic tampering or academic violations, it's regarded as much more serious than recruiting violations or providing extra benefits.

"When you talk about academic tampering, you're hitting at the very integrity of the schools. That's a much more serious matter. Some people don't believe it's as widespread, just people who once coached together working together (either to alter transcripts or give grades for courses not taken).

"I'm a little perplexed about where the best answer might lie. Over the longer view of things, certain (other) crises might appear greater."

Until November, New Mexico had been one of those schools about which much was whispered in the rumor-thick world of major-college sports but little was proved. Always, there was the hint of excess, in fan intensity, in the type of player recruited, in the assistant coaches hired.

A New Mexico assistant once spent three uninterrupted months in Petersburg, Va., trying to lure Moses Malone. He failed.

But coaches are not the ones who must generate reforms. Most of them are too timid to publicly challenge cheaters, for fear their own programs are not spotless. The pressures to bend rules that often seem silly anyway are almost impossible for non-coaches to fathom.

In the 1970s, there was a 90 percent turnover among the 261 major-college basketball coaches. Think of it. Nine out of 10 big-time coaches in 1970 either were elsewhere or out of the business a decade later.

"When I was a young assistant at Brown," said Jack Kvancz, basketball coach and athletic director at Catholic University, "I was sitting in a group listening to an assistant at another school growling that a third school had done all sorts of illegal stuff. "I said: 'Why not tell the NCAA?' They all laughed. Now I know why. You don't cast the first stone unless you're sure your own closets are free of skeletons. Who turns anyone in?

(The tip that led to the present scandals came from a wiretap on an unrelated matter.)

More significantly, Kvancz asks: "If we (coaches) can't police ourselves, who can?

In slightly more than a year, nearly every part of the ugliness of collegiate sport has been bared: brutality and big business, tampering, out-of-control alumini,contract breaking and all manner of under-the-table payments.

When the latest sins reach inside the university to his doorstep, how much longer can the president fail to get involved?