The "oil bidness" was where Big Ed Bookman made his money. Barrels of it. Big Ed was an influential TCU alum, a major contributor to the athletic fund. Through the years he had provided new lights for the stadium, artificial turf, a modernized weight room, quarterbacks who excelled at throwing incompletions, ball-carriers who ran backwards, linemen who never learned to block, and a vast amount of purple paint for the coaches' office. And all Big Ed wanted for his untiring generosity was one more Southwest Conference championship. If somehow TCU could cajole a particular duo of blue chip running backs like Artis Toothis and Tonsorrell Baines (Tonsillitis) Johnson into enrolling, their presence just might do it. "I don't want any NCAA probations," Big Ed cautioned, "but I can live with a few reprimands."

The latest in the TCU follies?

Not hardly. The bottom half of page 91 in Dan Jenkins' "Life Its Ownself." Fiction. Copyright 1984.

Life imitates art.

(Shut up and pass the gravy.)

Scandal its ownself has jumped up and taken a serious chunk out of TCU -- to say nothing of the entire SWC, where Southern Methodist is already on probation for football; the Houston basketball program is up to its keister in the illegal recruiting of Tito Horford; and Baylor basketball, and Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU football are being, or about to be investigated by the NCAA.

The way it turned out in "Life Its Ownself," TCU landed both backs. Toothis kept the car and the cable-TV dish SMU gave him and transferred. In the matter of Tonsillitis, Big Ed Bookman thought he sealed the deal when he gave the TCU coach a blank check and instructed, "Here, throw a net over (him) and haul him in;" then the total package was still in five figures, including the 280-Z and the six charge cards, which was how come when the TCU coach asked Tonsillitis, "What number you want to wear on that purple jersey, hoss?" the correct answer was "thirty grand." But as it played, Tonsillitis wanted a few fingers more in the glass; Big Ed maxed out at $500,000. And that's Miller Time.

Q. Would they go that high in real life?

A. Only if they had to.

Dick Lowe, a TCU alumnus who seems to have done tolerably well in some kind of bidness, has admitted being part of a consortium of boosters that was paying off 29 different TCU football players. Cash money.

Lowe said he did it after a coach told him "everyone else in the conference was buying players, and the only way we could compete was to buy players also."

According to Lowe, who may be the OPEC of the under-the-table bidness, this is the benchmark price for a normal football blue-chipper: "between $10,000 and $20,000, a car, and $1,000 a month."

(If you want him to actually go to chem lab, that'll cost you extra.)

Q. Now what do we think of this?

A. This is profound, pervasive corruption, and we think it's insane.

I'm not sure if college athletes should be paid. On the one hand, you've got the classic inequity of what is essentially a slave labor situation. But on the other hand, if you do pay them -- especially if they're paid compensatory with the hundreds of thousands of dollars they're bringing in -- then you don't have student-athletes anymore, you have a professional franchise.

The basic idea of setting scholarships aside for any and all gifted students still seems fair to me, if not generous. If the editor of the campus newspaper or the first trumpeter gets an additional stipend, so can an athlete. But college ought to provide students training and opportunity, not a guaranteed contract.

September's issue of Harper's contains a discussion of some serious problems facing sports, this type of cheating among them. The question is raised as to what, if anything, differentiates sports today from sports of the 1920s. "By far the biggest difference," said Robert Lipsyte, the estimable journalist, "is the enormous amount of money at stake in sports, a development we owe largely to television . . . Because of the huge sums colleges stand to make from television contracts, many schools have virtually mortgaged themselves to their sports programs." Supporting testimony came quickly from Tom Sanders, the former Harvard and Boston Celtics coach, and sociologist Harry Edwards. "Dollars have definitely become the crucial element in college sports -- those big dollars have made winning necessary," said Sanders. Edwards called the athletic departments at some schools "separate empires, completely autonomous . . . The athletic dog has truly begun to wag the educational dog."

Money is fine. So is winning. Neither is intrinsically bad, but repeatedly their combination has shown itself to be corruptive. Television money is quick, easy money. Get a good team, get on TV, get rich. But by any and all means, get a good team. Everything about the mindset screams: Cheat!

"Corruption in sports," said David Stern, the NBA commissioner, "is an extension of an attitude that has become pervasive in our society: winning is what's important, winning at any cost. Blood doping, steroids, payoffs -- all of it can be traced to that attitude. The rewards in big-time sports are so enormous that the problem is bound to get worse."