Walter Byers, executive director of the NCAA, is the force behind the NCAA Council's proposed rules change that would require 88 Division I colleges and universities that do not play Division I football to meet minimum basketball attendance and total scholarship figures or be dropped to a lower classification in 1984.

"This (comes about) as a result of a lot of people -- Walter in particular, but also the basketball committee," said Mike Tranghese, associate commissioner of the Big East Conference.

Tranghese said that Byers also considers the proposed legislation, to be voted on by Division I members at the 1983 convention in January at San Diego, as a way to appease the big-time football schools and probably avoid having the 63 members of the College Football Association start their own basketball tournament.

The CFA schools, which include most of the top football teams, desire a larger share of multimillion dollar television contracts and object to smaller schools forming six-team basketball leagues and getting an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament two years later. There were 28 automatic bids in the 48-team tournament last season.

The Division I Basketball Committee, chaired by Dave Gavitt, commissioner of the Big East Conference and Tranghese's boss, recommended that automatic bids should be restricted to 24 conference champions in the future. The recommendation was overturned by the general membership last January. The members passed a resolution giving any conference with an automatic bid last season another one this year.

The major football powers have objected to the presence in Division I of schools that, they feel, are only interested in money from the basketball tournament.

The CFA signed a football television contract with NBC this season, but the NCAA went to court and successfully argued it was the sole negotiating agent on national television contracts for NCAA members. Since then, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia have sued the NCAA, and a federal judge has ruled in the universities' favor, voiding the NCAA contract with the networks. The case is under appeal.

"Yes, it's a battle for turf," said Tranghese, in reply to a question. "But Walter also believes the basketball (tournament) field should remain at 48."

Byers was not available for comment, according to NCAA spokesman Dave Cawood; Gavitt also could not be reached.

There are 277 Division I colleges and universities: 97 that play Division I-A football, 92 that play Division I-AA football and 88 that do not play either. John Toner, athletic director at the University of Connecticut and secretary-treasurer of the NCAA, surveyed the 88 basketball-oriented schools and said he received 86 replies; of those, 25 or 26 meet the criteria, 18 are marginal and the remaining 42 or 43 schools do not meet the criteria.

If the proposed rules change is passed, to qualify as a Division I member, a school without a Division I football team must average 3,500 at home basketball games or 110,000 for home and away games the past four years; compete in eight varsity sports for men, and grant a minimum of half the maximum scholarships allowed for those sports, or an equivalent grants-in-aid cash outlay.

Under an exception clause proposed by Toner, a school that does not meet the criteria could stay in Division I if at least six teams and 80 percent of those in its conference qualify as Division I.

Of the 10 Division I slots on the 20-member council, none is occupied by a representative of a school that does not play Division I football.

Four Division I schools in the Washington area do not play Division I football. Of those, only Georgetown meets the criteria recommended by the NCAA Council Thursday. Thus, the status of George Mason, American and George Washington is uncertain.

But George Mason got good news yesterday when Tom Joynes, the athletic director at Virginia Military Institute, said that chances are "excellent" that his school will join a new football conference and play basketball in the ECAC South, keeping George Mason in Division I by virtue of the exception (conference) clause.

Although Toner announced the NCAA Council vote was unanimous, it was a voice vote and several members plus NCAA officers abstained, according to Olav Kollevoll, athletic director at Lafayette College of the East Coast Conference and one of the abstainees.

"There's two ways to look at it," said Al Paul, athletic director at Columbia of the I-AA Ivy League and a member of the Division I steering committee. "One is to protect and support those people (the basketball-oriented schools) who helped fight the battle of the Division I-A/I-AA football scene. The other is: If this doesn't pass, what will the future hold?"

Bob Frailey, AU athletic director, and Jack Kvancz, George Mason athletic director, see a divide-and-conquer strategy. The CFA failed in its bid to break away and form a super division. Now the NCAA's apparent plan for keeping control is to appease the football powers by reducing the Division I members.

"Why don't they recommend that you qualify for Division I if 85 percent of your scholarship athletes graduate?" Frailey asked.