Since their labor contract negotiations began in April, National Football League owners and players have haggled over weighty issues such as unfettered free agency and random drug testing -- and some far simpler questions as well. Such as: What should be the maximum allowable fine for a player who decides to, say, bring his spit cup into the training room?

Spit cup?

Don't laugh.

"Spit Cups in Training Room" is one of 79 offenses that has been listed in recent years on the New York Jets' disciplinary schedule. The fine for that offense is $100 -- a bargain compared to the Jets' assessments for being bare-chested at a team meal ($200), swimming in the hotel pool before a game ($500) or engaging in "horseplay" in the training camp dormitory (up to four weeks' pay).

Childish, these fines? Not to NFL head coaches, who believe that a day without discipline is like a day without wind sprints. "We're all children to a degree, not just the players, but the coaches as well," Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Ray Perkins observed the other day. "Without the fines, I think you'd be asking for a lot of trouble."

For as long as players have been answering to the shrill call of their coaches' whistles, fines have been a fact of life in the NFL. Players may not like them, but they tolerate them, even expect them. "Personally, I think fines are offensive," NFL Players Association general counsel Dick Berthelsen said in a recent interview. "But with some of these fines, players just kind of shake their heads and laugh. Their attitude is, 'Isn't that absurd?' "

The laughter may stop if NFL owners get their way in their negotiations with players over a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners' Management Council has proposed that maximum fines for most offenses be tripled -- and that new fines be established for ticket scalping and failure to follow a rehabilitative program prescribed by a club physician or trainer.

The NFLPA has rejected these proposals and most others put forth by the Management Council, and a strike date has been set for Tuesday. "Our position on the fines is that players already are being fined too much," Berthelsen said.

Under the contract that expired Aug. 31, clubs were allowed to fine a player up to $100 for offenses such as being late for practice, losing club-provided equipment and throwing a football into the stands, up to $500 for losing a playbook or missing a practice, and up to $1,000 a day for being absent from a preseason practice.

Coaches also could suspend a player without pay for up to four weeks for "conduct detrimental" to their clubs. Since this conduct was not defined, coaches could impose fines for almost any imaginable offense. "The craziest one I ever heard of was when Dan Devine was coaching the Green Bay Packers {during the early '70s}," Berthelsen recalled. "The team was flying home after a loss and Devine announced on the P.A. system that he was fining a player for his 'loosey-goosey attitude' on the team plane."

The Do's and Don'ts

Although some clubs, such as the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, tailor their disciplinary schedules to the specifications of the collective bargaining agreement, others, such as the Jets, New York Giants and Washington Redskins, list offenses that reflect the concerns of their head coaches.

Just what are some of these offenses? They range from smoking a cigar in the locker room to carrying a deadly weapon to -- well, here is a sampling of offenses that have appeared over the last two years on NFL club disciplinary schedules:

Looking like a slob. From the Jets' fine list, under the heading "Travel -- Dress on Road Trips": "Sport Jacket and Dress Slacks and Dress Shoes or Suit. No Blue Jeans, Warm-up outfits, Members Only Jackets or Leather Jackets. No Tennis or Running Shoes. THIS INCLUDES TO AND FROM TRIPS!" Fine: $250.

Using one's helmet as an easy chair. The Seattle Seahawks advise players that "sitting on helmet during practice or game" is a no-no. Fine: $50.

Playing Mr. Big Shot. Lest any player think he can park his Mercedes anywhere he sees fit, the St. Louis Cardinals offer this warning: "Parking in front of Busch Stadium interferes with the Cardinals' day-to-day business and interferes with convenience and access of ticket buyers." Fine: $250.

Entertaining the opposite sex. From the Redskins' fine list: "While at training camp, women are not permitted in the player's quarters. While traveling with the team on the road, women are not permitted in hotel/motel room." Fine: $500.

Risking one's life (and limbs). The Giants inform players that "use of a motorcycle, as driver or rider" is forbidden "from the start of training camp until the last regular season or postseason game." Fine: up to four weeks' pay.

Keeping one's neighbors awake. To ensure players get a good night's sleep at training camp, the New England Patriots have this rule: "Loud radio, stereo, hi-fi and TV will be warned -- if not turned down, the room (one or two players) will be fined." Fine: first offense $100, second offense $200, third offense "equipment removed."

Sleeping on the job. If you're a Jet, don't even think about taking a snooze in the training room. Fine: $500.

Acting like a wild man (on the field). The Giants warn players that "any and all intentional play directed at maiming a fellow league player (cheap shot) could be subject to the maximum fine." Fine: up to four weeks' pay.

Acting like a wild man (off the field). While at training camp or on the road, Los Angeles Raiders players must not create a "disturbance" or damage any "furniture" or "fixtures" in their rooms. Fine: $100, plus cost of damage.

Betting the ranch. The Redskins have a rule that forbids "gambling," which, in a recent interview, Washington Coach Joe Gibbs defined as losing "large sums of money" such as "over 50 bucks." Fine: $150.

Making small talk with the enemy. The Cincinnati Bengals remind players that "league rules prohibit the fraternization of players on the field before or after games." Fine: up to one week's salary and/or suspension.

Boozing it. The Redskins allow players to consume two beers on the team plane, but hard liquor is forbidden. Fine: $200. The Jets advise players: "Any Bar in surrounding area of Hotel where Coaches are present, Players are not permitted. If Coaches go to Bar in surrounding area and Players are there, Coaches are not permitted."

Faking it. San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh to his troops: "Men, let's work together to make the 49ers better by . . . carrying out routine warm-up, calisthenics and practice in a sincere manner {and} not pretending to be ill, injured or otherwise incapacitated so as to avoid practice, meetings, games or other work." Fine: unspecified.

Stealing it. In their 1986 disciplinary schedule, the Cleveland Browns forbade the "unauthoized {sic} taking of equipment from locker rooms or club facilities." Fine: $100 maximum, plus replacement cost.

Taking the First Amendment to heart. From the Bengals' fine list: "Players will not make public comments criticizing teammates, Club coaches or Club management, or the Club's operation or policies, nor will players publicly criticize players, coaches or management of other NFL teams, officials or the Commissioner." Fine: Up to one week's salary and/or suspension.

Hanging out with creepy people. The Raiders advise players not to "associate with gambling or other notorious characters." Fine: unspecified.

Hanging out at creepy places. The Redskins advise players to avoid "restricted public places." Such as? "There are a few places near {Redskin Park} that are bad places to be," Gibbs said in an interview. Fine: $250.

Carrying a deadly weapon. Several clubs, including the Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Rams, have a fine for -- gasp -- firearms in camp. Gibbs explained: "Every year, the NFL security people tell us that somebody's got a firearm in camp somewhere. Of course, that's a very dangerous thing if a guy gets upset, mad or whatever." Gibbs said that, although he has never found a firearm at Redskin Park, he is not taking any chances. Fine: $500.

Jets Lay Down the Law

Of the 28 NFL clubs, the Jets have the most extensive disciplinary schedule -- and it has changed little since it was implemented in the late '70s by then-head coach Walt Michaels. Not only do the Jets prohibit "Spit Cups in Training Room," they have fines for spit cups in the area of their therapy pool ($500), "jerseys not tucked inside pants" ($500), "horseplay" during "flexibilities or practice" ($100), parking outside the "garbage disposal area" at training camp ($500) and "setting off fire alarm in dormitory" (up to four weeks' pay).

The Jets' current coach, Joe Walton, would not discuss his philosophy on club discipline. "Joe feels this is an internal matter that the public doesn't need to know about," a Jets spokesman said.

Other NFL coaches spoke openly of their disciplinary schemes, emphasizing the importance of fines in the player-coach relationship.

"The problem with the union is that basically they don't understand freedom," Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry said. "They don't understand that freedom is a discipline . . . that when a player can operate within boundaries, he has freedom because he can express himself any way he wants within those boundaries."

"It's a matter of control and a matter of discipline," Joe Gibbs agreed. "If you get 45 guys together without some threat of fines, guys are going to pretty much do what they want."

The Redskins list 35 offenses on their disciplinary schedule, but Gibbs rarely fines a player. "I never worry about the fines," he explained, "because if I'm going to have to fine a guy more than once or twice, I don't think he's worth having on the team."

NFL owners want to triple most of the fines because, according to Management Council Executive Director Jack Donlan, the dollar amounts have not been adjusted since 1977. Under the owners' proposal, the $500 maximum for missing a team meeting would be increased to $1,500 and the daily $1,000 maximum for being a training camp holdout would be upped to $1,500.

The NFLPA has proposed that the fine for holdouts be reduced to $500 and that all others remain the same. As for the owners' proposed $1,500-per-ticket fine for scalping, Berthelsen said: "We've told {the Management Council}, 'Look. Whatever policy you have with regard to league-office employes scalping tickets, we would certainly consider treating players in the same manner.' But they want to shift all the blame to those 'greedy' players. And we don't think that's appropriate."

Fines Often Vary

There never has been agreement among clubs on the amounts players should be fined. The Cowboys, for example, have a $25 fine for "headgear touching ground or helmets off in drill, or chin strap unfastened in a drill." The Cardinals, coached by former Cowboys assistant Gene Stallings, assess a whopping $500 fine for the same offense.

Missed meetings? The Seahawks charge $100, the Rams $150, the Raiders $200, the Bears $250, the Redskins $300 and the Denver Broncos $500.

Women in players' rooms? Here coaches are more consistent. The Rams, Jets, Seahawks, Bengals and Redskins all agree it's a $500 offense.

Sam Wyche gave the women-in-players'-rooms fine a new wrinkle two years ago when he became the Bengals' head coach.

"We wrote {in the club disciplinary schedule} that the player's fine for having a woman visitor would be in direct proportion to the way the girl looked," Wyche recalled. "The worse she looked, the higher the fine. We said that grading would be done by the coaches on a 1-to-10 scale and that all judges' decisions would be final."

Wyche's superiors didn't find it amusing. Last year, they instructed the coach to delete any reference to the female anatomy from his disciplinary schedule.

"It was only a half-hearted fine, and we'd only done it to get a few chuckles," Wyche said. "But they were afraid we'd get some objections to it when the collective bargaining negotiations began."

The NFLPA has proposed in its negotiations with the owners that each club donate its fine money to a charity chosen by the disciplined player. Some clubs already are doing this. Others are using the money to benefit their teams.

"We've got a stereo fund going," Wyche said. "When a player is fined, he puts his money into a little bottle, like a piggy bank. When we get enough money, we'll buy a stereo for the locker room."

What kind of music will be played on the stereo?

"Well, I like elevator music," Wyche said. "A little John Philip Sousa right before the game or something like that."

But the players? Will it be "The Stars and Stripes Forever" for them as well?

"I don't know what kind of music they'll want to play," Wyche said. "We'll probably have to legislate that, too. You know, we'll probably have to . . ."

Of course.

What else?

" . . . come up with a fine."

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs

Cowboys Coach Tom Landry