The coach should be held accountable for the sins of his program, American University's Ed Tapscott was saying.

Not always, Georgetown's John Thompson said.

Maybe the way to clean up college basketball is to eliminate scholarships, stop charging admission to games, Maryland's Lefty Driesell said.

Players actually should get more than a scholarship, Howard's A. B. Williamson said.

A whole lot more, University of the District of Columbia's Wil Jones said.

This collision of ideas yesterday did not create the mental madness that exchange might suggest. Free-flow opinion is what sports editor George Solomon wanted when he invited the area's basketball coaches to join us in one room at one time to discuss one subject.

That would be the touchiest topic in college sports at the moment--recruiting. Who cheats and how much? What are the pressures that get good men and good coaches, pillars of the profession such as Ned Wulk (Arizona State) and Abe Lemons (Texas), fired? What are the inequities of a sport/business that seems to allow coaches convicted of collegiate crimes to slip away to another school unpunished?

Cheating is as old as games, certainly rampant in other college sports by the time basketball dribbled onto the scene in 1892. But it's more blatant in basketball, because one player has a greater impact than in football.

And it's fashionable--at last--for most coaches to at least consider some whys and some reforms in a civil setting. Such as over coffee and danish, with Lefty and John no more than two seats apart and actually agreeing on some points. But not all.

"The whole problem, to me, is money," Driesell said, and most heads nodded in agreement. "Why do kids want money? Because they figure the schools are making money? Right? And why do coaches get fired? Because the alumni and athletic directors want more money for their schools, somebody that can fill up the field house.

"I don't really know the solution. Maybe don't give scholarships. Don't charge to come to the games. It's getting out of hand. Like the NCAA playoffs. Why did they play (the final four) in that dome? To make money. That was a sorry place to watch a basketball game, but they wanted to make a lotta money.

"The whole thing is money now. Money for the kids. Money from TV. Money for everybody. And as long as you're doing that you've got a professional athletic situation going. Maybe money for the NCAA playoffs should be split (among all college teams instead of the ones who reach the various stages). Quit making it such a big business, 'cause the more you pay kids the worse it's gonna get.

"Gotta amateurize it some way."

What's the feeling about dividing NCAA playoff money evenly, George Washington's Gerry Gimelstob asked his colleagues?

"No," said Jones. "This ain't no pride game."

"I think it might be the right thing to do," said Thompson, "but I'll be damned if I'm gonna do it. I think that's against human nature. Didn't nobody want to give me no money for six years, when I was losing. I don't want to give a damn cent away (after earning more than $500,000 for Georgetown with that final four appearance this season)."

Thompson asked if he could name-drop to make a point.

"I had an argument with the president of the United States and the president of an Ivy League school. They were talking about that same (amateurizing) stuff, about those need-based scholarships. I asked him; 'Mr. President, let me ask you something? Did you enjoy it when the United States beat the Russians in ice hockey? Who'd you root for?'

"He told me: 'The United States, of course.' I turned around, looked at him and asked how'd he like to play those Russians with walk-ons. He laughed, same as you just did. Never answered me. We have a competitive nature, all of us, to excel. Separate from money. I fail to believe that Lefty's got a good program or A.B.'s got a good program because of the money.

"I think they get money because they're good. You all"--here his eyes found us reporters--"didn't pass no helluva lot of money over to the Star when it was going out of business, did you?"

The new guy on the coaching block, Tapscott, graduate of low-pressure Tufts, thought it a sad commentary on the game when prospects talk among themselves about how much illegal money they are offered.

They talked about it in my day, the '50s, Driesell said.

So there may not be anything new under the recruiting sun. No cheating innovations since airline tickets.

What is new is coaches--prominent ones--crying for reform. Notre Dame's Digger Phelps may shoot off his mouth a lot, insist that several schools are paying a $10,000-per-year wage without naming them, but he also follows it up with well-considered proposals for changes.

Enclosed in a recent letter to Driesell was what Phelps wants done, and soon: subpoena power for the NCAA; more coaches' input with NCAA enforcement staff; more investigative journalism; school presidents taking more control over their athletic departments.

He went on: prospects, their parents and high-school coaches should be required to sign an NCAA form stating they have read the recruiting rules and understood them. Any prospect then caught cheating should lose his eligibility. But not his scholarship. The sinning school should be forced to pay for that education, and suffer in other ways.

It should be on probation four years, not allowed in postseason competition or permitted use of the abused scholarship during that time.

Also, prospects should be required to have 12 college-prep courses in addition to a 2.0 average. And until he graduates with a major degree the college that recruits him cannot replace him with a scholarship player.

By being too wild and general a few weeks ago, Phelps hurt his reputation; by being restrained and specific a few days ago, he mended it.