Over the last decade, money has done more than make the sports world go 'round.

It has made it spin off its axis.

Perhaps the genesis of the spinout dates to 1975, when a baseball pitcher named Andy Messersmith helped establish something called free agency, sports' version of the Big Bang, which blew salary sanity to smithereens. More likely, there were other contributing factors, too.

Now, sports rotates on the axis of change.

"Things do not change," Thoreau once wrote. "We do."

If that be the case in sports, change over the last decade can be understood in one clear-cut way: those involved in sports no longer want only money. Now, they want money, then more money.

"People expect athletics to be different," says John Thompson, Georgetown University basketball coach. "It is 'the sacred ground that you don't tread on.' This is a myth in our society."

Over the next five days, the sports staff of The Washington Post will examine what has prompted the recent change in American sports and will focus on what the future holds. And what it holds is money.

Money. Money. Money.

ABC paid $225 million to televise the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Criticized for what many considered to be an outrageous price, the network proceeded to sell 90 percent of its advertising for $650 million.

Further consider that major league baseball this year signed a six-year $1.2 billion television contract with NBC. And now, Pete Rozelle, NFL commissioner, eagerly awaits 1987, when his league's current five-year $2.1 billion television contract is up for renewal. Likely, the new contract will have enough digits to reach the planet Neptune.

"If you're prepared to invest your money, sports is an area where you know you will get a quality product, and a product that rates well," says Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports, explaining the network theory of "Survival of the Fittest."

With the television megabucks generated by their services, players of all sports have decided that they want their cuts. So when such players as the Philadelphia 76ers' Moses Malone ($2 million per year) and New Jersey Generals' Herschel Walker ($1.3 million per year) and the New York Yankees' Dave Winfield ($2 million a year) got their cuts in the form of salaries as massive as their talents, other players wanted a cut, too.

Enter unionization, formed in baseball and football in the 1950s, gaining strength in the '60s. Enter strikes two decades later.

Enter change in sports.

"The reason sports unions have developed is that a union has shown it can change things; an individual against a monopoly just doesn't have a chance," says Ed Garvey, former executive director of the NFL Players Association. "Management is growing by leaps and bounds. The unions are just inching along.

Finishing his point, if not his sentence, Garvey adds, "If athletes in different sports would sit down and realize what could be done with all sports organized under one umbrella . . . "

Money. Money. Money.

Nearly every day, it seems, the headlines announce how another sports hero--often with a new million-dollar contract--has fallen to alcohol or drug abuse or been convicted of a crime. Baseball players such as Darrell Porter and Bob Welch admitted to being alcoholics; Dodgers pitcher Steve Howe was recently fined $54,000 after he was admitted to a rehabilitation center for the second time within a year because of cocaine abuse.

Don Reese, a former Miami Dolphins' player, last year told Sports Illustrated that the NFL has a serious problem with cocaine abuse among players. The Baltimore Colts' Art Schlichter recently was suspended indefinitely for building a $389,000 gambling debt.

Meanwhile, Quintin Dailey, star guard on the University of San Francisco basketball team, admitted sexually assaulting a woman last year; USF investigated, located many irregularities in the program and terminated its basketball program (although more because of alumni abuses than anything related to the assault incident); Dailey signed with the NBA's Chicago Bulls, only to encounter fan abuse, develop problems and require psychological help.

"To have so much so young," says Red Auerbach, general manager of the Boston Celtics. "Well, maybe when you get older you can handle it. But when you get a college kid coming out and making $400,000 or $500,000, he just doesn't understand it. He doesn't know what to do . . . The players are heroes to people and people are always trying to show them a good time."

"Fifteen years ago, you used to be able to show kids examples of the pro players they should be like," says Morgan Wootten, longtime basketball coach at De Matha High in Hyattsville. "Now, you tell them about the players who they should not be like."

"We all have high expectations of what perfection should be. But is there the perfect person or the perfect athlete?" wonders Steve Garvey, the San Diego Padres' first baseman. "Everyone wants to think of the athlete as the pure essence; they are the ultimate of strong minds and strong bodies. People want a sort of Camelot.

"But there will be 8 or 9 percent of society that has problems with alcohol or drugs and there is no reason not to expect that the same percentage will filter into sports."

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? People are really starting to wonder.

Money. Money. Money.

We hear of high school stars accepting college recruiters' cars and money under the table. We hear of forged transcripts and of athletes graduating from college barely able to read.

Often, these things occur because colleges are searching for the players who can help them get the money an appearance in a bowl game or NCAA final four might bring. Education?

Some call it cheating.

"I believe people cheat because their egos are so involved," says Dick Dull, University of Maryland athletic director. "I don't think they cheat just to avoid the soup line . . . A coach is a competitive person because all through his previous existence, he's wanted to succeed above anybody else. That's the reason, I think, that you have cheating."

In an effort to assure that high school athletes can cope with college courses, Proposition 48 was proposed to the NCAA. This rule--to be implemented in 1986--requires that incoming freshmen, in order to be eligible for college sports, must have 2.0 grade-point averages on a 4.0 scale in "core curriculum" courses (such as math and English), as well as 700 combined scores on the SAT verbal and math sections or composite scores of 15 on the American College Testing (ACT) test.

Some insist that this proposal discriminates against black athletes, because standardized tests favor the predominant culture. Others, such as Maryland football Coach Bobby Ross, say of it: "We have got to make sure players have opportunities in the job market beyond the idea of just graduating."

Proposition 48 provides Exhibit A of what happens when ethics collide with the pursuit of money in sports. Finding a suitable compromise is not easy.

Money. Money. Money.

Somehow, change sidesteps some parts of sports. While some amateur athletes in America receive both over- and under-the-table payments (most notably in skiing and in track and field), others with Olympic aspirations in the less publicized-sports must scratch for survival.

"I believe very much in the amateur ideal," says Dick Rader, a former modern pentathlete who is now helping train pentathlete Mike Storm of Arlington, Va., for the Los Angeles Games. "I'd rather have the Olympic movement stay totally amateur, but I also think the world has changed a lot. It's extremely difficult, almost impossible, for athletes to win gold medals unless they get the money."

Change, in a way, has also sidestepped blacks in sports. While blacks dominate the rank of the athletes, few move on to management positions.

Some blame racism. Others blame the lack of role models for black youths or say there are few black applicants. Whatever, the money is there. The blacks aren't.

"What we find," says Harry Edwards, professor of sociology at Cal-Berkeley, "is that blacks have less and less access as coaching salaries continue to escalate."

Money. Money. Money.