The anti-Soviet summer snowball Dick Dull started nearly two weeks ago has been bulging and barreling. Day by day, sometimes hour by hour, America's athletic community is following the lead of the Maryland athletic director in choosing not to join Boris at play while he behaves as a killer without conscience.

Sometimes, the snowball either has run over or thrown slush at people as patriotic as Dull who simply want assurances that athletes will not be the only Americans making inordinate sacrifices.

Five days after the Soviets shot down a South Korean jetliner carrying 269 people, Dull announced that Maryland would cancel its November basketball game with the Soviet national team at Cole Field House.

His reasons then--"the culpability of the Soviet Union . . . and their continued arrogance and disdain to all legitimate inquiry from the world community"--seem even more valid now. That's why six other schools have matched that outrage with action, causing the Soviet tour to be called off Friday.

Now the California legislature, unanimously, has passed a resolution urging President Reagan and Congress to bar the Soviets from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

"The Soviets prize participation in the Olympic Games more than any other activity," said the resolution's sponsor, state Sen. John Doolittle (R).

Not quite.

They enjoy winning a whole lot more than participating.

No American athletes took part in the '80 Games in Moscow; American journalists, among others, were dumbfounded that the Soviets could strong-arm the International Amateur Athletic Federation into keeping its jury of appeals from Lenin Central Stadium until incidents of cheating (in the javelin, discus and triple jump) got out of hand.

Comes the predictable, and sincere, reaction to the California legislative maneuver from F. Don Miller, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee: "It's a sorry state of affairs that we do not have men with enough intellect to develop a foreign policy with some meat in it, but go back to the same thing again and again.

"Isn't there more to our foreign policy than amateur sports?"

In this case, so far, not much.

Reagan talked tough; Dull did something about it.


But whether denying the Soviets our athletic space is a viable deterrent to Soviet savagery or simply gives politicians the easiest tough choice is debatable. Certainly, the Soviet government will be able to concoct a decent enough lie for Arvidis Sabonis to tell his mother when she asks how come he won't be playing in the U.S. after all.

The Olympic boycott in '80 was not a flatout bust, as such as Miller would have us believe. But President Carter failed to keep enough free-world athletes, primarily the British, from competing to deny the Games total credibility.

Very likely, Miller will run into the same occasionally nasty reactions from doing his job, as he sees it, as Bill Wall did. Wall is the executive director of the Amateur Basketball Association/USA who called Dull's actions, at the time he took them, "premature." Which they might have been had the Soviets reacted humanely instead of in character.

What Wall and basketball officials at Kentucky, Alabama, Houston, Oklahoma, Kansas and Vanderbilt wanted was time, to see if either an apology from the Soviets or forthright action from Reagan would soon follow. Neither did, but by that time so much anti-Soviet sentiment had gathered that the colleges were forced either to ban the Soviets or be branded communist sympathizers.

"We try to be purists," said Wall, knowing that's impossible. "I have a job, same as the guy at the State Department has a job. And my job is international understanding through sports."

Understandably, Wall got angry when he felt only his small area of international influence was being used against the Soviets. What about the farmers? What about major industry? What political risks was Reagan himself taking?

Dull apparently went off on his own--and it was effective. But colleagues who wanted to wait until the last possible moment a decision had to be made, after all evidence possible had been gathered, were forced to endure unfair pressures.

Miller and the USOC are in the same position, or soon will be.

Everyone with a mind knows that games ought to be sacrificed before lives, that sports are among our least-essential businesses. But Olympians also tend to be under voting age, which makes infuriating them much more appealing given dozens of hard choices.

To me, the Olympics is the most overrated and overhyped sporting event on the face of the earth. Too chauvinistic, too expensive, too hypocritical, it nevertheless has gotten big enough to be used as a political tool by terrorist groups and leaders of the world's super powers.

What we've seen from Dull, and others in sport the last week or so, has been a willingness to look beyond the playground and step in behind the government when that might help in some tiny way. Talk of barring the Soviets from the L.A. Olympics is useful, a way to let them know we can miss their fine athletes, if necessary.

But let's not act before taking a few months worth of deep breaths.