It probably takes less than the $500,000 that Wil Jones slyly suggests ("You need room to bargain," the coach says). But the transformation from Division II basketball to Division I costs enough to send most university presidents into a form of paralysis that makes it impossible for them to open their wallets.

It was surprising, then, to hear Benjamin H. Alexander suggest that he wants his school to go big time. Alexander, president of the University of the District of Columbia, added incredulity to surprise when he said he knew how UDC could finance the step up from Division II.

"It's up to the president to raise the money," Alexander said as he shook hands with fans, students and players who flew home yesterday morning from Springfield, Mass., where UDC finished second in the NCAA Division II championship.

"And, yes, I'm ready to raise the money," the president said. "Other schools have gone into Division I with much less than we have. We have won a national championship, we have a reputation and accomplishments. Most important, we have a commitment from key administrators of UDC--such as the president and the chairman of the board of trustees."

Wil Jones, the coach, said he will meet with university officials the first week in April to discuss the implications of declaring for Division I.

"I've got them excited, and I want to keep them that way," Jones said. "Truly, as the university grows, this is the proper step to take. We're getting it in our minds to do it."

Right now?

"Right now. I'd take my whippin' for a year if I had to, but I think we can compete with the group I've got coming back."

Before any decision is made, Jones will give the UDC bigwigs a dose of reality. He'll scare them straight if they aren't serious about Division I. He said, "I ain't going to Division I without what it takes to compete. You don't want to go in there half-steppin'. The only goal you ought to have is winning the national championship. I have to recruit the Magic Johnsons, I have to butt heads against Georgetown and George Mason.

"I ain't going to lose my job because I took a cap pistol in there against 9 million Indians. I ain't General Custer. If you go in there and get your brains beat out, who gets fired? The president? Hell, no."

So the first thing Jones wants, as protection against university impatience, is at least a five-year commitment to Division I competition.

Then what it takes to compete, Jones says, is almost everything that UDC lacks.

"I really don't believe the administrators understand what is involved," he said. "They're going to be set down by me for a talk. It's not so much that they won't want to go Division I, but purely how are they going to get the revenue? . . . It's all a matter of money."

Let us count the costs of Division I.

There is no housing on campus, so Jones now finds apartments and transportation for his guys.

"We need a dormitory," Alexander said, "and I'm working on it."

The big-leaguers have two full-time assistant coaches, one part-time. UDC has Jones and one part-timer.

Name it, UDC needs it: first-class travel, a recruiting budget, meal money (Jones' per diem for meals is $17.50, causing him to say, "I have to drive 900 miles to find a fast food place for breakfast, lunch and dinner.")

UDC needs an arena larger than its 3,500-seat on-campus facility. "The new Convention Center downtown would be ideal," Jones said.

UDC needs to be in a conference. "That way you have a double shot at getting into the NCAA tournament. I'm thinking of a good conference like the ECAC North or South," Jones said.

Jones is against membership in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (Howard's league). "There's no money in the MEAC." Also, this: "I want to move away from the black syndrome so I can recruit the good white kid."

Another thing. Jones wants a contract.

"I'm under some kind of government deal," he said. "I don't want that anymore. They have to give me a decent contract. No more of that promise stuff. I want a contract like the top guys get."

The chairman of the UDC board of trustees, Ronald H. Brown, attended the national championship game at Springfield.

Alexander called that "historic."

Brown said he favored strong consideration of going to Division I.

Such a move by a young school has solid precedent. UDC, established in 1977, would follow the likes of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Alabama-Birmingham, South Alabama and South Florida. All justify the cost as worth it for university identity, revenue, enrollments and alumni donations.

With all-America Earl Jones returning next year, this might be a propitious time for UDC to move. Jones makes UDC a box-office attraction. With the addition of two or three Division I-caliber players to a team already good, UDC might be a 20-game winner immediately.

Stay tuned.