The last time the National Collegiate Athletic Association held a special convention, five years ago, it was called "the economy convention." Years from now, when people look back at the special session beginning here Thursday, they are likely to call it "the power and greed convention."

Delegates from about 400 schools began arriving in St. Louis today, their purpose to take up the question of reorganizing Division I, the major colleges, of the NCAA. The NCAA agreed to hold this convention because the Collegiate Football Association, 61 of the nation's football powers, threatened to sign a television contract with NBC last summer.

"I would call the TV contract leverage," NCAA President James Frank said today. "I think the question all along has been reorganization."

The CFA probably will emerge with part of what it wants. Its proposal to create a new division, Division IV, is likely to fail largely because it takes a passing vote by members from all three divisions to create a new division.

More likely to pass is an NCAA Council proposal that would eliminate the so-called "Ivy League amendment" from Division I-A criteria. If it does, Division I-A will drop from 137 schools to about 90 or 95.

The Ivy League amendment, passed in 1978, exempts schools that have 12 varsity sports from rules requiring minimums in attendance and stadium size for Division I-A status. If the NCAA proposal passes, those likely to be affected are schools from the Ivy League, the Ohio and Missouri Valley conferences, the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, the Southern Conference and the Mid-American Conference. They would drop to Division I-AA.

Those schools are expected to lead the fight against any restructuring.

"I don't think Division IV has much chance of passing," said Maryland Athletic Director Dick Dull. "The Big Eight amendment (which falls between a Division IV and the NCAA proposal) probably won't go through, either. But the NCAA proposal has a good chance of passing. And if it does, I think the CFA members will take that as a first step."

The CFA will meet Saturday to discuss the TV contract. If some form of reorganization passes, it is expected to vote against the NBC contract. The real fight for TV revenues will come at the annual convention next month when the question of who owns TV property rights will come up.

An attempt by the CFA to get a discussion of a proposal regarding TV property rights -- i.e. cable, the big dollar producer of the future -- probably will be ruled out of order.

There will be a series of resolutions brought up regarding network TV negotiations, the main thrust being that each division will have a separate committee that will work with the NCAA TV committee in negotiations. That way, the football schools will not have to work with the smaller schools in future contracts.

But the major topic of conversation during the two-day convention will be reorganization. Three years ago, the football powers pushed for a restructuring that would have removed a number of schools from Division I-A in football.

The criteria suggested by the football powers would have used stadium size and attendance as standards for admission to Division I-A. But a last-minute amendment proposed by the Ivy League exempted schools that did not meet the criteria if they had at least 12 varsity teams.

As a result, Division I-A membership has dropped from 139 to 137.

Frustration over no change and its inability to get proposals passed at conventions moved the CFA to sign a tentative contract with NBC last summer after the NCAA had negotiated one with CBS and ABC. When the CFA schools voted, 33-20, with eight not voting, in favor of the NBC contract in August, the NCAA either could have expelled the CFA schools if they signed the final contract in September or compromised.

This convention is the compromise.

If the Division IV proposal, pushed by CFA Director Charles M. Neinas, were to pass, only about 80 schools would qualify. "We think this is the best route for everyone and we intend to fight for it," Neinas said.