Maybe Lefty Driesell figured it was nothing. Maybe the coach considered the Herman Veal decision a third-rate burglary by a kangaroo court stealing his best defensive player. Maybe he figured the decision wouldn't hold up because, as he saw it, it was outrageous and he could change it by pulling strings.

That's one possible explanation of Driesell's alleged behavior since Veal was declared ineligible two weeks ago. Since then, sources say, Driesell has applied a full-court press hoping to overturn the decision made by a student judicial board and certified twice at appeal. These sources say Driesell or his friends have telephoned the woman involved and university officials at every level of the school's judicial process, including the chancellor's office.

"I don't see anything wrong with Lefty calling people," said a big-time coach. "He ought to help his player."

Is it standard practice at universities for a coach to try to change a decision after it is made?

"Definitely not. Once the judgment is made, you have to live with it. Until then, Lefty is perfectly right to call everybody in hell. Once it's done, though, let it go."

How then should Maryland deal with Driesell if, in fact, he tried to get the decision reversed?

"They won't fire him."

Nor should they. The coach has been foolish, not felonious. He is as good at his job as most any professor on campus. They pay him to win ball games. He has done that for more than two decades. The next time he lectures on Plato's Republic will be the first time, but then how many philosophers can hit a hook shot from behind the three-point line?

No, there is no brief here for getting rid of Driesell. The university's reputation won't suffer because of this episode. If anything, it demonstrates that the days are over when the Maryland athletic department was an empire unto itself. Unless there's a smoking gun somewhere, the university chancellor likely will order Driesell to apologize to much of the Western world. And that will be that.

The curious thing, so far, is that Driesell has acted as if this all were nothing. An example: at Driesell's urging, Athletic Director Dick Dull changed his mind and allowed Veal to accompany the team to Houston and practice with it for the NCAA tournament beginning tonight. That's nice. Stand by your player. Maybe Veal's work in practice will help Maryland in the real games. That's nice, too.

Still, he shouldn't be there. Dull's first instinct is correct. Driesell's argument was that Veal wanted to go to Houston and be part of the team. But if the intent of the university's ruling is that no student on full probation shall represent the university, then Veal's presence with the team at the NCAA is a violation, no matter if he plays or not.

Maybe Driesell figures this case is nothing. Maybe that's why the coach didn't get involved until it was too late. It's true one of the coach's lawyer friends represented Veal in the university proceedings. But Veal had lost his case not once or twice but three times before Driesell went into his full-court press. Suddenly, Maryland was about to go into postseason play without Veal. Only then did the coach erupt on TV with his declaration that he would use his "pull" to get Veal back in uniform.

That didn't happen.

Instead, the university's chancellor is now conducting a review to answer the question, "What did Driesell say to whom and when did he say it?"

The coach says he isn't worried. Some of his friends think the whole episode is a ploy by frustrated academicians wanting to discredit the athletic department. Driesell tells us we don't know the whole truth. Then he refuses to say anything more. The clear implication is that when the whole truth is out, we too will see that the affair was nothing.

By every action, Driesell says it is nothing. Here is the coach, maybe the university's most prominent employe, brushing off complaints by the university Women's Center with a cavalier, "I don't care about the women's center. I'm a men's center, okay, I'm taking care of my players and myself."

And the coach also said to that TV interviewer, "In my mind, Herman Veal is the victim."

Taking care of your players is one thing. Taking care of yourself by using those players to win games is one thing. It's another when the coach goes on the offense against a woman whose complaint has been upheld at three levels in the university's judicial system. And it is yet another thing when the coach gets on the phone, using his "pull," to try to undermine the process.

Dull at first said he would oversee an investigation of Driesell's conduct. He spoke too soon. It didn't seem right that the athletic director investigate his own staff. Dull's announcement was only a day old when the university chancellor took over the investigation. Chancellor John B. Slaughter wants to know how far Driesell went in "taking care" of Veal and the team.

Maybe Driesell thought it was nothing. But now, it turns out, Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes also is interested in the coach's telephone etiquette. The governor said yesterday he intends to look at whatever finding the university makes in the Veal-Driesell review. The last time Gov. Hughes reached into university business, he stiffened the punishment assigned a professor.

The governor likely has more important business on his desk than a review of a basketball coach. But his attention to the case is important because it says what Driesell has refused to say.

This case is something.