A police investigation into complaints by more than 20 women that they were forced to commit a variety of sexual acts with University of Oregon football players over the past two years has led to open warfare, with the chief of police here accusing the university of impeding the probe.

"The cooperation received from University of Oregon officials, with rare exceptions, was almost nonexistent," said Police Chief James H. Packard in a letter published by the Eugene Register-Guard. "This lack of cooperation caused major delays in the investigation . . ."

Packard's accusations, denied by university administrators, also included contentions that an unnamed athletic department staff member, when informed of sexual assaults, deliberately failed to notify law enforcement officials.

The police chief's outburst this month came as the latest development in a year of continuing controversy that has enveloped Oregon's athletic program. In what has become almost a case study of big-time college sports program run amok, the record at Oregon over the last year also includes bogus academic credits, an illegal travel fund and a credit card scheme in which thousands of dollars of long distance telephone calls were made illegally with a university credit card.

It also includes the indictments of two assistant basketball coaches on charges of misappropriating money from the travel fund, the resignation of one assistant football coach, withheld pay raises totaling $9,896 for five other football coaches and the indictment of seven football players on charges involving misuse of the stolen credit card.

On Aug. 28, a Lane County grand jury handed down indictments against four members and former members of the football team, charging a variety of sexual assaults. Those indictments followed an investigation that began last February into complaints by more than 20 women, most students at the university or high school students, that they were forced to commit sexual acts, usually in dormitories or off-campus housing, by Oregon football players.

eugene Police Det. Rick Raynor, who interviewed the women, said lack of physical evidence and the lapse of time between the dates of the purported assaults and their being reported to the police were the reasons for so few prosecutions.

"But that doesn't mean they didn't ocur," said Raynor. Likewise, Det. Fred Piquette says he has no reason to disbelieve the women who complained of sexual assaults. "I feel they all told the truth," said Piquette.

Eight of the women, contacted independently by representatives of The Washington Post, described the incidents in which they said they were forced to commit sexual acts with one or more football players and their reasons for failing to report the incidents promptly.

"I was scared he would kill me. I know he would have hurt me," said one of the women. Another said she received threatening telephone calls warning her against testifying before the grand jury investigating the complaints. Still another said she was afraid her parents would find out.

In most of the cases, the women complaining of the assaults had known the players casually over a period of months or had met them in social situations just before the incidents.

One woman complained she was raped twice by members of the football team in 1978 when she stopped off at the house where another player was living after a party. Being given a tour of the house, she said she found herself alone in a bedroom when one of the players entered, pushed her on the bed, tore off her clothes and raped her. When she screamed, she was slapped and raped by another player.

"The entire time it was happening, all I could think of was that I had heard a lot of stories, but I couldn't believe they were doing it to me, especially since I had known them for such a long time," the woman said. A week later she dropped out of college and moved to Hawaii.

Another woman, an 18-year-old freshman at the time, said she was watching television with some friends in the dormitory room of another player. Late in the evening, everyone else had drifted away, and she and a player were left alone in the room. The player started making unexpected sexual advances toward her, the woman said.

"I told him to stop, but he kept on trying. Then I tried to run for the door, but he grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me against the wall. He told me there was no getting out, and I would have to accept it."

The woman said she was raped twice before she was allowed to leave, and she didn't tell police, medical authorities or even close friends until months later. "I didn't tell the police because it happened in his room. That's the bad part. It sounds terrible but he did rape me, and that's a fact."

Two other women said they had complained to Football Coach Rich Brooks that they had been the victims of sexual assaults by one of his players and that Brooks had told them he recommended the player for psychological counseling.

In his letter to the newspaper, Chief Packard, while mentioning no names, criticized an athletic department staff member for not reporting the complaints to police.

"I will never understand," said Packard, "why a member of the University of Oregon athletic department, when he became aware of the alleged sex offenses, felt no moral or ethical obligation to inform any law enforcement agency nor to encourage the alleged victims to do so.

"Had he reported the alleged offenses, additional alleged and reported sex offenses (also reported to him) might well have been prevented. But even when these additional alleged offenses came to him, they went unreported." e

Brooks refused to discuss the complaints of sexual assaults or any other aspect of the controversy surrounding the football program with representatives of The Washington Post.

But the Associated Press has quoted television station KEZI in Eugene as saying Brooks told the station that two women had complained to him in 1978 that they had been sexually assaulted by players on his team.

The station reported that Brooks said he told the women to make their complaints to legal authorities, that he called the players in and heard them deny the charges and concluded that was as far as he personally should carry the matter.

In a formal statement released in response to Packard's letter, Ray Hawk, vice president for administration and finance at Oregon, said the university had tried to act "in a cooperative and open manner" in handling investigations of the school's athletic department.

While never commenting directly on the guilt or innocence of any individual player, Brooks has maintained throughout the probe that the whole team was being unfairly maligned for what, at the most, could be the actions of only a few players.

"Anything written on the allegations puts the entire team in a poor light at this time," he said last spring. "You're not dealing with facts. It imperils the integrity of the whole football team." University officials admit the controversy has helped undermine public confidence in the academic integrity of the institution, one of the more prestigious schools in the Pacific Northwest. In the wake of the disclosures, administrators say they are reappraising the role of athletics in an academic environment.

It has also badly tarnished the popular image of college footaball reflected in billboards located throughout Oregon's lush Willamette Valley. Those billboards show a football player -- in the green and gold colors of the University of Oregon -- handing a glass of milk to an admiring youngster. They are more than milk advertisements. They reflect the widely held conviction that college football, like milk, stands for all that is pure and wholesome. In the past year, that conviction has been badly shaken here.

The situation at Oregon is not unique. It is but one illustration of what many educators believe to be an epidemic that has infected big-time college football. Oregon is among five schools disciplined by the Pacific-10 Athletic Conference this year for academic and athletic irregularities. Elsewhere, the University of New Mexico's basketball program was devastated by a scandal involving forgery of academic transcripts, there were burglary and rape charges involving athletes at the University of Kentucky over a five-year period and accusations of special deals on automobiles for athletes at UCLA. An investigation made public by the University of Southern California last week disclosed the athletic department there had circumvented the admissions office to admit more than 300 academically deficient athletes over the past decade. And many of those close to college football say only the tip of the iceberg has surfaced.

"Good sportsmanship and effort used to be what counted," says Paul Olum, acting president of the University of Oregon. "Now there is too much pressure on winning. We have to realize we don't have to compete with the pros."

At Oregon, as at most major colleges, the bulk of the athletic program is supported by revenue generated from football and basketball. Winning, which means more money from gate receipts and donations, is considered essential for athletic survival.

"Some individuals are willing to cut corners to win in the context of this enormous budget pressure," says Oregon's dean of students, Robert Bowlin. "The pressure of football to support other sports is so great, especially for those schools which don't receive state support for athletics."

The laughingstock of the Pac-10 Conference for most of the 1970s, Oregon began to get serious about football three years ago when Brooks was hired away from UCLA. Since then, Oregon football has dramatically improved. Last year, the team had its first winning season since 1970 -- and Brooks was named Pac-10 coach of the year. There was talk of a trip to the Rose Bowl in 1981.

A former assistant coach with the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers, Brooks played quarterback at Oregon State University, and he has been involved in football for most of his adult life. Popular and respected by other coaches, he can be excitable on the sidelines during games, but for the most part projects a serious, calculating and intense image. It has been said that he rarely smiles during the season.

A story on Brooks in Gameplan, a preseason football magazine, observed that "in just three years, Brooks has completely reversed Oregon's sagging football fortunes. For as long as Brooks is in Eugene, the Ducks figure to be a power."

So far Brooks' victories have paid off. The number of season ticket holders doubled during 1979, and average home attendance -- 37,000 -- was 8,000 over the previous record high.

But trouble started after the season ended, and as the months passed things only seemed to get worse. Several key players were placed on probation and subsequently transferred to other schools, the Pac-10 has declared Oregon and four other schools ineligible for Rose Bowl competition, and the program may be facing its first NCAA investigation.

The investigation into the sexual assaults was all the more trying because it came on the heels of the bogus credits, the travel slush fund and misuse of a university telephone credit card belonging to an assistant coach.

Coming off last year's highly successful season, the football program was rocked last December by disclosures that three players, Mike Honeycutt, Rock Richmond and Paul Perez, were awarded transfer credits from out of state colleges they never attended. All three were ruled ineligible and left school. A fourth player, former linebacker Derrick Dale, who left the team at the end of the 1978 season, admitted receiving six semester credits for courses taken during the summer of 1977 at Los Angeles Valley Community College, when, in fact, he spent the entire summer in Oregon.

"It was general knowledge among players on the team that if you messed up in school, the coaches could get credits for you to keep you eligible. They could only do it if you were good," said Dale in a sworn affidavit to The Eugene Register-Guard.

Disclosure of the bogus credits was followed almost immediately by the resignation of assistant coach John Becker. Brooks also offered his resignation, but it was refused.

William Boyd, who was president of the university at the time, said Brooks had no knowledge of the bogus credits.

"But he should have known," said Boyd.

Until news of the bogus credits broke in Sports Illustrated and other media, said Boyd, "we had absolutely no reason to have any suspicions about the program."

That the scandal could happen at all, he continued, is in part a function of the fact that, "universities to such an enormous degree are accustomed to operating on the basis of trust. They have no built in checks. It works 99 percent of the time, but it does make them vulnerable. Every now and then scoundrels take us for a ride."

Boyd left Oregon at the end of the academic year to take a job as head of the Johnson Foundation in Racine, Wis.In an article published this summer in the College Board Review, he reflected further on issues and problems of big time college athletics.

"Surely we in higher education have cheated, and cheating did not start with bogus credits," Boyd wrote. "Cheating started with blatant violations of recruiting rules, year after year . . . We have also treated our players more like gladiators than students. Athletic 'counselors' lead students through the soft floss of the curriculum to keep them eligible. . .

"Another point of criticism is that nearly every university claims that the faculty controls athletics. But for the most part, faculty control is a fiction.

Throughout the nation, presidents, including this author, have defaulted by not paying adequate attention, regarding as trivial, something that was actually far more important than some of us realized."

In response to the bogus credit disclosures, the university decided to conduct its own investigation of the athletic department, assigning law professor Peter Swan to examine department records.

Swan researched athletic transcripts over a four-year period and found, in addition to the bogus football credits, that two divers on the swimming team had received credit in the summer of 1978 for classes they had not attended. In all cases the pattern was the same: falsified transcripts were submitted to the registrar's office for transfer credit. for courses purportedly taken elsewhere.

Additionally, says Swan, "there were 10 or 11 other athletes that we have serious doubts about the integrity of their transfer credits."

In those cases, Swan said, he was unable to prove the transfer credits were bogus, "but they were very fishy."

"I think some of our coaches were affected with misguided loyalties," said Swan. "The values they have been immersed in for most of their participating and coaching lives are markedly different from the values that the people in the English department, the law school or the history department might have.

"They work harder than hell and they're great guys. But they operate under extreme pressure and they come from an environment that is different from what other people in the university might have. When college sports crossed over the line from athletics to entertainment, then it began borrowing values from the world of professional sports."

Additionally, observed Swan, the rapid increase in quickie extension courses and "soft credits" across the field of higher education, most of them to satisfy job-related degree requirements, helped create an atmosphere in which abuse by athletic departments would be relatively easy.

"Once the system started getting perverted, athletics began joining in," said Swan. "Athletics was taking advantage of something that was already there. They blew the whistle on athletics."

Swan's investigation did not end with the phony academic transcripts. It also uncovered a travel fund in which $6,011 was diverted from the athletic department and misuse of the credit card.

In the travel fund, said Swan, tickets were purchased on athletic department accounts but the trips either never were made or shorter trips that cost less were made.

In any event, said Swan, the refunds "weren't being credited to our budgeted account. They were being credited to a secret account that was being used in a variety of ways."

Among the uses of the travel account were $2,348 in personal travel expenses by seven football players in violation of NCAA rules prohibiting extra benefits beyond routine educational expenses for student athletes. The seven were declared ineligible for periods ranging from one game to an entire season. w

Facing criminal prosecution on charges of mingling money in the fund with their own personal funds are two former assistant basketball coaches, Mark Barwig and Ron Billingslea. Barwig was charged with mingling $2,000 from the fund with his own accounts between March and May of 1978 and Billingslea was accused of mingling $1,680 with his accounts during the same period.

Both men have denied any impropriety and made full restitution. "I have no comment while the case is going on," said Billingslea. "My attorney has told me and Mark not to speak to any reporters."

Misuse of the credit card came about when a player was given the number of a university telephone credit card assigned to an assistant coach with permission to make one telephone call. The investigation subsequently disclosed approximately $14,000 worth of long distance telephone calls were made on the card, including $2,300 worth by football players.

Seven players were subsequently indicted on charges of theft in the incident. One has repaid money, and charges against him have been dismissed. The other six have pleaded not guilty.

As the 1980 football season began here, the program was still smarting from the prolonged controversy. The local community remained deeply divided, and trials on the sexual assault indictments lay ahead.

"At one time, I had the feeling that anything was okay for good athletes, for good sports, for winning," said one Eugene resident. "But it looks like we can't win without doing weird things. The whole principle stinks."

Shortly after students returned to campus for the fall semester on the last Monday in September, the student newspaper in an editorial, called for Brooks' ouster.

"On the field Brooks has done a good job," the editorial said. "He's won football games, and that seems to be what counts. But it shouldn't if the victory trek is an immoral one. Brooks should be fired and the system should be changed. As it now stands, the system is geared towards satisfying the fans. The game should be given back to the players."

At the same time, others argue the whole team has been unfairly stigmatized by the actions of a few. On opening day at Auzten Stadium here, a number of team supporters showed up in autos sporting "Rich Brooks for District Attorney" bumper stickers.

"There is a swell of support for the coaching staff, and it is regrettable what has happened," said Vincent Bilotta, director of the University of Oregon Alumni Association. "People feel the university has taken more than its share of abuse."

Says acting president Olum, "It would be a pity if the university suffers because of one or two bad apples."

In the indictments, handed down Aug. 28, quarterback Andrew Paige was charged with two counts of burglary and one count each of attempted rape, sexual abuse, sodomy and coercion. Tailback Dwight Robertson, the brother of Buffalo Bill defensive back Isaiah Robertson, receiver Rick Ward and running back Reggie Young were each charged with one count of sodomy and coercion. On Thursday, Lane County Circuit Judge James Hargreaves dismissed the coercion count against Robertson and Young after lawyers for the men argued that the state's coercion law is vague. A spokesman for the state's attorney's office said the dismissal will be appealed. Of the four, only Robertson still is living in Eugene and playing football at Oregon. Paige left town this summer and moved to Hawaii, and Ward transferred to the University of Colorado. Young dropped out of school, but returned voluntarily to Eugene to surrender to authorities after the indictments.

Eugene attorney Ken Morrow, who represents Robertson and six of the players accused in the telephone fraud indictments, says they all are innocent. pHe argues that because they are athletes, local media and law enforcement authorities are blowing the cases all out of proportion. He said he has directed all the players not to speak with reporters.

Lane County District Attorney Pat Horton couldn't disagree more. He contends that the assaults are being downplayed by the university and the local press in order to protect the reputation of the city and the university. "I'm tired of hearing about the 'poor athletes, poor coaches, poor fans,'" says Horton. "What about the poor victims. Nobody has any sympathy for them.

"I get supporters of the team telling me I should lay off. But if one of their daughters came home and said, 'Daddy, four football players broke into my room and raped me. Daddy, I need a psychologist now. And Daddy, I'm dropping out of school.' Daddy wouldn't be telling me to lay off. He'd be down here pounding on my desk shouting for justice." In the wake of almost a year of controversy, Oregon, like other institutions, is reassessing the role of athletics and the premium placed on winning.

"A university can't afford to countenance this sort of behavior," says Bowlin, adding, "the one that hurts is the bogus credits. When you get into academic dishonesty, it hurts the integrity of the institution and the trust between universities to be honest. We can't have a crystal ball over every transcript."

Says Olum, "Athletes should be students first and athletes second. We have a need to educate people about that."