The "Moscow 1980" T-Shirts are going for half price on the streets of Boston, an unspoken reminder of the political and economic realities that surround the 84th running Monday of the Boston marathon.

The "BAA Marathon," Boston Athletic Association, as it is officially called, is the oldest and perhaps the most commercially unsullied foot race in the United States. To the winner will go the same spoils John J. McDermott received in the first race in 1897: nothing.

Yet the talk here is of open running, of going professional. Runners are meeting to discuss unionizing. Serge Arsenault, president of the Montreal International Marathon, is putting the finishing touches on a plan for a 10-city, five-continent marathon circuit, which he intends to pres-present to the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) this summer.

And the talk is about an invitation soon to begin in New York of two reports published in The Washington Post that about $50,000 in prize money was paid to top finishers in last year's New York City marathon.

Last week, the Athletic Congress, which oversees long distance running in the United States, named its treasuer, Aldo Scandura, to head a committee made up of members of the New York Metropolitan Association to investigate the reports.

Scandura is a former president of the New York Road Runners Club, which organizes the New York marathon, and still is on the club's executive committee.

Asked about a possible conflict of interest, Scandura said, "If I thought it was a conflict, I'd step aside."

Fred Lebow, current president of the New York Road Runners Club said, "If anything, Aldo will be tougher on us than anyone else . . . he called me. He didn't use the word investigation. He said there would be an inquiry. I think there is little or nothing to inquire about. But our books are open.

"Lebow also said that interest in the New York Road Runners Club, in terms of membership and sponsorship, had increased dramatically since reports of prize money were published.

Jerry Kokesh, president of the Road Runners Club of America, is concerned about whether the investigation will be effective.

"They're going to go after no one -- not the runners, not the organizers. They're going to let it die. They're going to say someone at The Washington Post is telling a story. What I'd like to see is the system changed. If you're going to have prize money, let's do it. If not, let's take care of the guy who did something he's not supposed to do." i

Jeff Darman, former president of the Road Runners Club of America, said, "Since I am personally opposed to any investigation that would suspend runners for taking excessive expense money or prize money, I can't think of a better choice to chair it (the committee) then Aldo Scandura, if one was to guarantee that they'll come up empty handed."

George Hirsh, publisher of The Runner Magazine (one of the sponsors of the New York City marathon), agreed that there probably would not be any suspensions, but for another reason.

"The game's changing," he said. "We already live in a world where the parameters (of what is legal) are fuzzy.It's harder and harder to say where the limits are."

Understandably, runners are not quite as blithe about investigation that could lead to the loss of amateur status. Benji Durden, who finished fifth in New York last year and is considered one of the top 10 runners in Monday's race, said, "It's like traveling in a spaceship through a meteor field, and a little one hits and everyone gets shook. Some day the big one's going to hit."

But, Durden added, "I don't really see what they can do. It would be hypocritical after all these years of inattention to do something now.

"If they take sanctions there may be a runners' boycott. If they get Bill Rodgers) I'll bolt. I'm not going to stand by and watch a friend get burned. We need the Athletics Congress to sanctions and certify. We don't need them to make problems."

Rodgers is favored to win his third consecutive Boston marathon against a field decimated by indecision over the Olympics boycott and Olympics trials scheduled for May. Asked about the investigation, Rodgers smiled and said, "What's there to investigate?"

"The Athletics Congress and Ollan Cassell should spend their efforts toward developing the sport," he said. "Especially since I raised $50,000 for them. They ought to spend it building the program."

Two years ago the IAAF ruled that amateur athletes could endorse products if the producer was a sponsor of the national governing body. The Athletics Congress receives $25,000 for each product endorsement. Rodgers has made two.

Garry Bjorklund, one of many top tunners not competing here -- other absentees will be Craig Virgin, Frank Shorter, Lasse Viren and Randy Thomas -- is concerned about "the prospect for taking an individual like myself and pumping up some charges and saying, 'My God, boy, you've broken the rules, we can't have that.'

Yet even those runners who consider open running an inevitability -- some say it's already a reality -- do not expect to see it here.

"Not next year," said Bobby Hodge, another top competitor from the Greater Boston Track Club. "Maybe in five years."

"Not until (Will) Cloney (race director) is gone," Fleming said. "He doesn't even want any commercial names attached to the Boston marathon."

"I don't think so," Rodgers said. "Boston may always be this way."