Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell criticized the NCAA yesterday, saying it is an embarrassment to intercollegiate sports, largely because of its ineffectiveness in dealing with rampant cheating and rule-breaking.

"The NCAA is the laughingstock of the country right now," Driesell said at a press conference the day before college basketball practice opens around the nation. "They better toughen up or college athletics in this country will be in trouble."

Driesell said cheating -- specifically the practice of giving money illegally to recruits -- has reached the point where high school coaches solicit such inducements. "I've had coaches (within the last six weeks) ask me for money. They say, 'Okay Lefty, you can't tell me you didn't give Buck Williams and Albert King anything (beyond tuition, room, board and books).' And I say, 'Ask 'em. Whatever they got is the same thing your kid can get.' "

Driesell called the cheating and the NCAA's failure to discipline most cheaters "sickening, disgusting, outrageous and everything else."

Driesell cited the case of the Texas Christian University football team, which had seven players admit they accepted money from an alumnus. "If I was the head of the NCAA, the first thing I'd do is make them forfeit every game that those guys played in," Driesell said. "They've got one guy making more money than I do."

Driesell harshly criticized some rules the NCAA has begun trying to enforce, such as the rule against "organized" college basketball practices before Oct. 15.

Coaches are not supposed to watch players practice until today, a rule that is widely violated. Sources have indicated the NCAA sent out investigators to see if coaches were watching their players practice or play in pickup games.

Last night those sources indicated that American University was found to have violated that rule and as a result cannot practice until Oct. 20. Coach Ed Tapscott could not be reached for comment.

"You're not allowed to see them play before (today), according to the NCAA, which is ridiculous," Driesell said. "Watching practice? What kind of rule is that.

"You can't buy (recruits) a T-shirt, you can't take 'em to eat. Everybody takes 'em to eat anyway."

Driesell said he feels most of the illegal inducements happen in a recruit's hometown. "So, they should just cut out home visits altogether," Driesell said. "Let a kid and his parents come to campus and have the school pay for it, and we entertain them within 30 miles of the campus.

"How do we see them play? Let them try out like they did when I was recruited when I was a senior in high school. Chasing these kids, begging them to come -- that's not necessary. That's where I've been for the last month-and-a-half."

Six new players were in uniform at Maryland yesterday for media day, and three might wind up competing for the starting center position. Driesell said he would like to move last year's center, Derrick Lewis, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference in blocked shots as a freshman, to forward. Juniors Bryan Palmer and Terry Long will be competing with freshmen Phil Nevin, 6-11, from Vandergift, Pa.; Tony Massenburg, 6-9, from Sussex, Va., and David Gregg, 6-9, from Northwestern High.