ABC Sports, like its network rivals, often says that in order to preserve the quality of boxing matches it televises, it will buy only one fight at a time.

Except . . .

Except when the network determines that a multifight package is the only way it can keep a fighter from boxing on either of the other two major networks. Such is the case in ABC's deal with five Olympic boxers.

Multifight packages frequently breed mismatches. A promoter says to the network, "I'll give you Thomas Hearns against Roberto Duran, but you also gotta take Hearns against the Unknown Comic and Fritz the Cat against Phil Donahue."

ABC has signed Olympians Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield, Tyrell Biggs, Pernell Whitaker and Meldrick Taylor to six fights each through the end of 1985.

In August, Bob Iger, director of program planning for ABC Sports, said: "We're going to be careful . . . when these fighters turn pro, the first four or five of their fights are against people with limited skills. We don't want to be involved following Olympic fighters against absolute wastes."

Now, Iger says, "The economics of the situation dictated a multifight package. We didn't want to watch other networks capitalize on fighters after we had popularized them."

But some of these fighters may not be worth viewing, or genuine mismatches may occur in an effort to guarantee that the fighters keep winning. To ABC's credit, the network has complete approval over opponents; ABC also reserves the right to cancel its deal with any of the fighters if he loses.

Handlers of these boxers, naturally, don't want to rush their prospects along too quickly by scheduling talented opponents. Essentially, ABC is walking a fine line -- Iger wants to avoid putting stiffs in the ring against the Olympic boxers but it's also not in his interest to see them lose. Is ABC more worried about credibility or marketability? Usually, networks worry about creating big names to sell to the public.

ABC's next Olympic boxing package will be shown on the Jan. 5 edition of "Wide World of Sports," when Breland and Holyfield will fight live in what will be their second professional bouts.

David Brinkley and Howard Cosell back to back? Cosell's critically acclaimed "Sportsbeat" will find a new, permanent home at 12:30 p.m. Sundays starting Jan. 6, following "This Week With David Brinkley" on ABC.

Cosell's Dec. 23 program, highlighting the show's best segments of 1984, again demonstrated why "Sportsbeat" deserves an audience. It's timely and provocative, and if you can get by Cosell's occasionally self-serving patter, you'll discover network television's best half-hour of sports journalism.

Still, "Sportsbeat" may not survive in its new time slot, especially come autumn, when it would go head to head against NFL pregame shows. Perhaps, then, ABC should dare to gamble and make an ironic move -- return Cosell to "Monday Night Football" in the form of a 15-minute "Sportsbeat" airing weekly at halftime.

Jim Brinson, who does play by play of Bullets basketball for WDCA-TV-20, is developing a language all his own. Here is the unofficial first-half statistics on Brinson from Saturday's Bullets-Hawks telecast: Shooting or taking "the jay" (jump shot) -- seven times. Driving or moving "in the paint" (the foul lane) -- five times. Picking up or getting "loose change" (rebounds) -- twice. Shooting and "rippling the twine" (making a basket) -- twice.

NBC's Charlie Jones, commenting on Los Angeles running back Marcus Allen during Saturday's Raiders-Seahawks wild card game, said: "He does for a football what Dolly Parton does for a sweater."

At best, the comment is inappropriate and banal; at worst, it's tasteless and offensive. Women often complain that men use standards of convenience. If a broadcaster makes an ethnic or racist slur on the air, he may find himself without a job. But if a broadcaster makes a sexist statement, his male-dominated audience ignores it or fails even to recognize any harm.