An NCAA basketball quiz: Are the following incidents over the last few months isolated or connected?

* Joe B. Hall resigning as Kentucky basketball coach, at age 56, having averaged nearly 23 victories a season for 13 years.

* St. John's University (31-3) probably winning more games than the New York Knicks (24-50) this season.

* Coaches throughout the country, but especially in the Big East, screaming at officials on nearly every call.

* Chris Washburn admitted to North Carolina State with a college board score of 470, when the school average is about 1,100.

* Indiana Coach Bob Knight throwing a chair across the floor during a game against Purdue.

* Maryland, which played tournaments in Hawaii and Alaska, logging not too many fewer travel miles than the Bullets.

* Four players at three schools either quitting the team or being suspended before the NIT.

* Cheating in recruiting reportedly more common than ever.

* Irate fans throwing ice on the floor.

* Several players being arrested for alleged point-shaving at Tulane.

Howard Garfinkel, a high school talent scout whose knowledge of college basketball is nearly as deep as his love for the game, posed most of the questions. I thought the items had no thread, until he mentioned one word:


Sure enough. College basketball is bigger than ever, played better than ever, richer than ever -- and also sicker than ever.

Never have more games been played for less purpose. Because 64 teams are allowed into the NCAA tournament, regular seasons are as watered as drinks in a cheap bar; conference tournaments are meaningful only to distressed teams hoping for a miracle.

The season before John Thompson arrived, Georgetown played 26 games; 13 years later, if the Hoyas reach the NCAA final Monday, they will have played 38.

Hall is a decent, cerebral man who thought he could succeed Adolph Rupp and survive in the most corporate of college programs.

He couldn't.

Kentucky's players are stabled in the Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge, which resembles a perk more suited for a president.

Rooms are named after donors of more than $25,000; after NCAA inspectors passed through, pampered Wildcats were forced to make do with no television in their rooms, with a standard black phone instead of the blue-and-white model and without pinball machines in the rec room.

Every two weeks, the players autograph about 500 basketballs. That unique devotion to Kentucky basketball is why the team lives in luxurious isolation. If the Wildcat Lodge were not locked, it would be overrun by fans.

"It's not enough (for Kentucky fans) to get to the Final Four every year," said Washington Coach Marv Harshman, retiring after 40 years and 642 victories. "If you win it (the national championship) at Kentucky, it's not good enough to finish second the next year.

"There's nothing below the pinnacle. They're satisfied only if you win it every year. Pretty soon, they might complain if you didn't win the national championship by a big enough score."

Four decades ago, Rupp told one of his players who was thinking seriously about becoming a coach: "You have to recognize you'll never make money; but you offset that by gaining prestige. Professionally, it does offer great security."

That player, C.M. Newton, who has been around the coaching block a time or two, laughs.

"I have to tell my son that two of those factors aren't possible," he said. "And the third (prestige) only comes if you win regularly."

Some college teams are operated more professionally than some NBA franchises; some coaches who speak most piously about reform are whispered as being among the most blatant bandits.

Still, if the game is to drift back toward some compatibility with the rest of university life, it must become both less like a business and more like one.

In no special order, the colleges must:

* Give the players a modest living allowance, perhaps $300 a month. With millions more available the last decade, the minimum wage of a free education no longer is enough.

* Repeal the freshman eligibility rule. Precious few players are capable of anything close to a smooth transition from high school to high-energy academics and athletics. Also, college basketball is a three-year proposition for some players now since they turn pro before their senior year. That increases the pressure on a coach to recruit one of the 25 or so special prospects each year.

* Cut the regular season from 26 to 20 games. And make those junkets beyond the continental borders count against that number. No way should a college team play close to half an NBA schedule.

* Let every Division I school, all 282 of 'em, into the NCAA tournament. The fewer teams invited, the more pressure to recruit well for the coaches who fail.

Lots of coaches suggest revenue sharing to correct the imbalance between the NCAA champion getting an estimated $700,000 and nonconference teams not a penny.

Make them earn their money. Such an expansion would add only about another week or so to the tournament; it would give all schools some revenue and all coaches more security. That's one of the reasons the regular season got shortened.

All this is overdue by years. The debate should not be whether change should come about, but when.