Chet Simmons dreams of sugared TV plums and fat cats, a sea of Tampa Bay towels and Michigan mugs, forests of fans stretching from Jacksonville to the Pacific Northwest. In his eyes, the United States Football League will grow like a seemingly eternal balloon, filled by cities that love football, want football, and want the USFL.

Last week the infant league added Jacksonville as its fourth expansion franchise for 1984 and San Antonio and Minneapolis are reportedly eager for admission.

"It's vitally important to expand," Simmons said. "It will make the league more viable. We need bigger cities, we need more cities."

The 12-team league is fiercely challenging the establishment NFL, even going head-to-head next year in Pittsburgh, Houston and possibly San Diego, three extremely successful NFL cities.

"The NFL can't accommodate all the football players in this country," Simmons said. "Therefore, it will accrue as a benefit for us."

With expansion to four and perhaps six cities next year, what will be the effect on a struggling franchise like the Washington Federals?

"From the Feds' standpoint, expansion will give us the exposure we need," said team owner Berl Bernhard. "It will add stability to our league and rebound to our benefit."

"The effect on us won't be any different than on anyone else," General Manager Dick Myers said.

"I don't know whether the Federals will benefit," said Peter Hadhazy, USFL operations director. "I think everyone will be affected equally, whether for better or worse."

There is a concern that expansion will lead to a dilution of talent, with play suffering in direct proportion.

"For a while that (dilution) will be true," Federals Coach Ray Jauch said. "I always felt the league will produce quality in two, three years. Everybody is worried about the caliber of play dropping. Undoubtedly, there will be a watering down, but it will improve."

"You'll notice the dilution some," said Paul Brown, general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals and a member of the NFL's Competition Committee. "The more teams you have, the more the talent is distributed. That's the law of statistics."

Brown, who was part of the Bengals' expansion franchise in 1968, sees another problem with adding teams. "Four new teams lessens the TV pie." The USFL currently receives approximately $18 million from ABC-TV and $11 million from ESPN for two-year contracts.

The diminution in TV revenue is offset, however, by the $6 million entrance fee the expansion teams must pay. "Washington will get expansion dollars, which will more than make up for the lost TV money. It's a quid pro quo," Simmons said.

The real money will start pouring in, Simmons believes, when the league gets team-heavy. "The more teams in the league affects promotion, marketing, and revenues generally. We'll sell more T-shirts, cups, pennants and hats. That's a big business.

"The Jacksonvilles and San Antonios will have a quicker success rate than the bigger cities, where the USFL is not the only game in town. The Federals have had unbelievably bad luck. But it's a great sports town."

To make money, the USFL needs exposure. They want people to call them USE-FUL, not USE-LESS. "The idea of expansion is, number one, to get a lot of interest in many cities," Hadhazy said. "We've got to go into other parts of the country."

"The increase in media coverage is a promotional tool of some consequence," Bernhard said. "The more cities means more coverage by ABC and ESPN which will generate more opportunity in Washington to see our games and more USFL games."

Brown, who has overseen the NFL expansion to Tampa Bay and Seattle, agrees. "The idea is to get money from expansion sales to help survive."

But is the league moving too fast? The AFL did not expand beyond eight teams for six years, not until 1966 when they added Miami, and then again in 1968 with Cincinnati. In the last 23 years, the NFL has expanded five times, adding six teams (excluding the merger with the AFL in 1970).

"I've never seen a league expand so fast and quickly," Brown said of the USFL. "Only time will tell whether they succeed."

Said Bernhard, "If you move too quickly and in a way unplanned, you get weak sisters. But the owners have been very meticulous about evaluating each group coming in."