Saturday's Georgetown-Virginia college basketball game, the most ballyhooed regular-season game in 15 years, is being played for one reason: money.

For Georgetown, the profit should be approximately $600,000, based on rights fees, gate receipts and the impact on season-ticket sales.

There was no public sale of tickets for the 8:35 p.m. game at Capital Centre that will match Virginia's 7-foot-4 senior Ralph Sampson against the Hoyas' 7-foot sophomore, Patrick Ewing, for the first time.

The $600,000 would have been enough to sustain Georgetown's athletic and physical education departments for almost 1 1/2 years, based on the Hoyas' budget in 1971-1972, Coach John Thompson's first season. Georgetown received slightly more than $500,000 for reaching the NCAA's final four last season, but had to split it with other Big East Conference teams and pay expenses.

Frank Rienzo, who became Georgetown's athletic director before the 1972-73 season, says he still tries to run his athletic program with the same perspective, if not the shoestring budget, as he did before the Hoyas started winning regularly and getting on national television. The only difference, he says, is the amount of money involved. Of this game, Rienzo says: "I don't want to be money-hungry, but I'm not oblivious to the money potential."

For Saturday's game, Georgetown and Virginia split a television rights fee of approximately $550,000 being paid by Turner Broadcasting System. They also split approximately 18,000 tickets scaled at $15 each.

Georgetown's profit figure is reached by using these figures: $275,000 in television rights, $50,000 in gate receipts after expenses and Virginia's share are subtracted, and about $250,000 in 2,000 additional season-ticket sales as the only way to get a ticket.

Virginia will not make nearly as much, about $85,000, because it will get only one-eighth of its share of the TV rights fees. Seven other Atlantic Coast Conference schools will split the remaining television money. There is no benefit for Virginia in increased season ticket sales because University Hall in Charlottesville is sold out for the season.

A WTBS official says Turner will make more than $1 million on the game, although most advertising representatives and other television sports syndicators contacted say it barely will break even.

"We bid $435,000," said Fred Botwinik, president of Katz Sports Inc., which syndicates some Big East Conference games. "At $435,000, we expected to win," he said. "I didn't think there were other lunatics in the world."

Obviously, a lot of people apparently underbid on the game.

Jim Trahey, director of sports sales for WTBS, Turner's superstation in Atlanta, says Turner had sold 14 1/2 of 15 minutes of national commercial spots at $65,000 per 30-second ad, more than ABC or CBS got for a 30-second spot on an NCAA football game of the week this fall. The other 30 seconds have been bought tentatively by a sponsor who had already bought some time, Trahey said.

Before cable advertising revenues, radio rights and international television rights fees are considered, that's $1.95 million. Costs, including rights fees, advertising agency percentage and production, should be no more than $800,000. Profit: at least $1.2 million.

As of late last week, Trahey said he has sold the game to at least 106 commercial stations, mainly network affiliates, including the top 37 markets and 46 of the top 50 nationally. In televisionese, that's 80 percent penetration with the ad rate based on each commercial message reaching an average of 11 million homes in any quarter-hour.

Says Rienzo, who recognized more than eight months ago he had a hot property and opened it to bidding: "I felt this event was a significant sporting event in the magnitude of a heavyweight championship fight or a Super Bowl. I don't think Turner paid too much for it. I think he got a great buy."

Richard Shultz, Virginia athletic director: "I knew this would be the biggest regular season game since UCLA and Houston (Lew Alcindor versus Elvin Hayes in 1968). I told Frank when we were discussing this that, if this were my game and I put it out for bid, I'd ask the same rights fee as a national football telecast."

A regular nationally telecast college football game of the week brought each participant about $700,000 this season. Thus, Turner paid less and is charging slightly more for a 30-second commercial spot.

Five networks or syndicators bid for the game. The offers by Turner, CBS and Katz were the only ones seriously considered, Rienzo said. Katz's bid also included a percentage of its profit, if advertising sales reached a certain level, in addition to the $435,000, according to Botwinik.

There was little apprehension pioneering a game like this on cable. "I felt confident they would syndicate it," Shultz said. "I thought they milked it for as long as they could on cable, to sell more cable outlets."

Normally, NBC has first choice of games involving Atlantic Coast Conference teams, as part of a three-year contract that started this season. However, there was a loophole. The game had not been scheduled by the date in May on which NBC had to make its choices.

"We registered our objections at the time, and we dropped the matter," said Rich Hussey, director of sports programming for NBC. "We're more disappointed than anything else that something like this could happen. Obviously it's a premium game."

NBC did not bid for the game, taking the position that it already owned the rights, according to Hussey. CBS did make a bid, in the same range as Turner's. But officials at that network made one basic miscalculation. They thought Rienzo or Shultz would change the Dec. 11 prime-time date specified in the bid sheet. CBS wanted to pair Georgetown-Virginia with an NFL playoff game on Jan. 8, a Saturday afternoon.

Russ Potts, the former promotions man at the University of Maryland, former athletic director at Southern Methodist University and now a television syndicator, told Rienzo he would take whatever date and time Rienzo wanted.

Potts and WTBS are known as an entity in the television business. Potts scheduled Turner's Thursday night college football package. He also bought the rights to 55 college basketball games. Turner bought 12 of the best; Potts syndicated the rest. Georgetown-Virginia is a joint venture between Turner and Potts' Sports Productions Inc.

"They almost got it by default," said Shultz about Turner, because of CBS' insistence to play the game in January. "It was a situation in which we could win the battle and lose the war. With the hype going on, both coaches wanted to play as early as possible. This (Dec. 11) was the only date we had on the schedule we both had open, without playing a back-to-back game."

Said Rienzo: "CBS wanted the game on Jan. 8. This is college basketball, and our students wouldn't even be in school then. Potts would take it whenever we gave it to him. If CBS had agreed to play Dec. 11 in prime time, they'd have it."

Asked if he had outwheeled and outdealed the networks, Rienzo said: "Absolutely not true . . . I've never seen the (ACC) contract. It's my game. I sold the game . . . The only thing I did that was different was putting the game out for bids, which was to enunciate what the value of the game really was."

Shultz said: "That's not right. It's a question we solved a long time ago. NBC's rights were only within 48 hours of the signing date (in mid-April for high school seniors) and the hardship (draft) date, whichever was later. We decided we couldn't even talk about (negotiating for) the game until we knew what Sampson was doing."

Georgetown is the home team and owns the television rights this time; Virginia for the second game, which may be played as early as next season and most likely will not be at Capital Centre or University Hall in Charlottesville.

Under terms of contracts with CBS and NBC worth almost $10 million over the next three years, CBS would have first choice to televise any home game played by a Big East Conference school. Because of what happened in this case, the contract is written to close the loophole. "It's a good thing we didn't have a contract this year," Rienzo said.

Said ACC Commissioner Bob James: "The potential for this always occurs when you have dates open on basketball schedules. We're going to meet with them (NBC and CBS), because I don't want to go through this again."

Potts said he approached Rienzo and Shultz shortly after the NCAA final, in which North Carolina defeated Georgetown, 63-62. He said he met secretly with Bob Wussler, the president of Turner sports, and Terry Hanson, the executive producer.

They developed a game plan in which, under a joint venture, they would put together a rights contract covering six areas: commercial syndication, cable, pay-per-view cable, closed circuit, international and radio.

Potts said that he at first was going to syndicate the game through his company, but that Turner ended up doing it, because "he was better equipped with his in-house vehicle." The move does not affect the amount of money that Potts is expected to make. He declined to reveal the percentage.

Advertisers for the game are heavyweights: Anheuser-Busch, "biggest sponsor of WTBS that Turner has," according to a brewery spokesman; Parker Brothers, STP, Atari, Zenith, U.S. Army, Valvoline, Holiday Inn, Emery Air Freight, Panasonic, Mars, Honda, Xerox, Canon, Chrysler.

WTTG-TV-5, Georgetown's flagship station here, expects to outdraw ABC's "Love Boat" and CBS' Saturday night movie, said Sandra Pastoor, program director. Her station's movie normally draws a 4-6 share of the Nielsen ratings in that time period; "Love Boat" is an 18 and CBS programming a 12 during this prime time. She predicts the basketball game "definitely will be in the 20 range."

"This is like 'Gone With the Wind' compared with a normal Sunday night movie on CBS. This is the game of the year," said Pastoor, who declined to say how much Channel 5 paid Turner for the telecast of the game.

"This is like a Sugar Ray Leonard fight," Potts said. "Five to seven years from now, with the hardware available, this would be like a Leonard-Duran fight, $30 million minimum on pay-per-view."