The University of Maryland's athletic program is facing a financial crisis that could result in severe cutbacks in or the elimination of several non-revenue producing teams this year, according to Athletic Director Jim Kehoe.

"We're dealing with a catastrophic rate of inflation," Kehoe said. "You're talking about costs that have gone up about 25 percent since I left as athletic director two years ago. There's no way in the world you can generate an extra 12 percent in revenue every year.

"It costs as much for a football helmet today as it cost for an entire uniform a few years ago.It's inevitable in college athletics today that we're going to see sports abolished and a severe reduction in travel and squad sizes in other sports."

Maryland now opertated 23 varsity teams, 13 for men, 10 for women. Only two, men's football and basketball, generate revenue, Kehoe said.

Last year, the Maryland athletic program finished with a $400,000 deficit under the direction of Carl James, who resigned in May to become commissioner of the Big Eight Conference. He was replaced later that month by Kehoe, 63, the man he had succeeded two years ago.

"I think one of the main reasons I've been brought back is the deficit," Kehoe said. "It's a matter of record that I've never operated in the red. I don't intend to start now.

"I have a mandate from the chancellor which is quite direct: get rid of the deficit. I've alway been a believer that you don't spend what you don't have. Right now, I'm taking an awfully hard look at the entire budget. I'm making changes. I don't believe in delegating authority when it comes to spending money. That means I look at every purchase order that goes out of that department. That's the only way to run things."

Kehoe would not discuss specific reasons for last year's deficit. But he did concede that the football team's four-game losing streak, which cost the school a regional TV appearance and a bowl bid, created a problem. "That would have taken care of a large chunk of the deficit," he said.

"In the end, whatever else you say, the bottom line is winning games. If you win on Saturday, maybe you get on TV. You sell more tickets for next Saturday and your boosters feel better about the program.

"That's especially true in this area because I can't think of anywhere in the country where there is more commpetition for the entertainment dollar. You've got the Cots, the Orioles in Baltimore, the Redskins, the Bullets and the Capitals in Washington.

"People have to eat, people have to drink, people have to have a roof over their head. Buying tickets to see a football or a basketball game is a low priority. You have to win a lot to get people to pay to see you."

Kehoe said that the necessity of winning in order to survive creates the kind of situation that has cropped up in the west in the last year: transcript fixing, numerous recruiting violations, coaches being forced to resign, games being forfeited.

"I've alway maintained that when something like that happens, you have to look to the man in charge," Kehoe said. "If you have the right general you win the battles.

"But let's face it, you have to have the horses to win games. Recruiting is 85 to 90 percent of the coaching battle. Look at the ACC in basketball. There isn't a bad coach in the lot. The ones with the players win the games.

"You have to win games to make money. You have to have money to survive. And you have to recruit to get players. It's all a circle. The pressure to win is constant. If an English teacher gives a bad lecture it doesn't cost the school any money. The alumni don't get upset. But with coaches, it't different. They have to win.

"That doesn't mean there's any excuse for any of these things happening. If the supervisor is on top of things, they don't happen."

Kehoe said he hoped there would not be a need to eliminate any sports at Maryland, but added, "This is a very tough situation for me. We may have to take drastic action before it is over."

Kehoe is virtually locked into the 1980-81 budget but said he thinks there are ways to generate more revenue during the coming school year. Maryland already has started radio and television advertising for football and, like James, Kehoe said football season tickets are a high priority item.

Already, Kehoe has canceled a 1985 football game at UCLA. "Costs," he said. "We just couldn't afford to go out there."

He also will try -- as James did -- to talk Navy Athletic Director J.O. (Bo) Coppedge into a football game. Navy and maryland football teams have not played each other since 1965 and Kehoe said he wants badly to see the series renewed.

"One of the saddest things happen at Maryland during the 1960s was the end of the Navy football series," Kehoe said. "The game is a natural. The costs are very low and we could sell out the stadium. I am willing to do whatever it takes to get a football game with Navy."

Coppedge has maintained that adding Maryland to his schedule would be adding another "emotional" game, that the Mids already have a difficult enough schedule.

Kehoe, who left the Maryland program two years ago following a dispute with Chancellor Robert L. Gluckstern, apparently is very much back in control.

"Claiborne knows more football; Driesell knows more basketball; Costello knows more track," Kehoe said, "but believe me, I know more about everything than anybody."

Kehoe also is determined to shed his image of antagonism to Title 9, the federal law that forbids sexual discrimination in scholastic and collegiate atheltics. When the law first came into existence, Kehoe was one of its most outspoken critics.

"A lot of what Is said got twisted around then," he said. "Morally, I have absolutely nothing against it. I have three daughters and I want them to play sports just as much as my son.

"All I'm saying is we've created massive new expenditures, spend massive amounts of money on programs which just don't have the ability to generate revenue. That's why you're seeing schools eliminate programs. No one has that kind of money."

One solution Kehoe sees as inevitable is the eventual elimination of athletic scholarships for nonrevenue sports.

"Eventually all scholarships in the nonrevenue sports will have to be based on financial need," Kehoe said. "It's like everything else. The money just isn't there."