A federal judge yesterday denied Howard University's request for a temporary restraining order that would have postponed today's scheduled first round of the NCAA Division I-AA football tournament.

Though he expressed sympathy for Howard's plight, U.S. District Court Judge John Garrett Penn denied the request, which asked that the Bison be placed in the tournament, because he said it would have done more harm to the 16 teams and their fans who already had made plans to play or watch today's eight scheduled games.

"I can understand the feeling of the university and I can more understand the feeling of its players," Judge Penn said during the proceedings in a Washington court room crowded by Howard officials, players and other school supporters.

"I can understand their disappointment, but whether or not their lack of selection violated antitrust laws or constituted breach of contract will have to await further hearings in this case . . . The court must conclude based on the showings and arguments in this hearing that substantial risk or harm would be done to others if the games are ordered to be delayed. The court, therefore, must rule the motion for a temporary restraining order be denied."

Howard finished with the second best record in Division I-AA at 9-1 and had filed suit Wednesday against the NCAA and its four-man selection committee, charging the Bison had been unfairly denied a berth in the tournament. Howard, which is asking for damages of $27 million in the suit, sought the temporary restraining order claiming monetary awards could not fully compensate the irreparable harm done if it was left out of the tournament.

After the ruling, Howard President Dr. James Cheek said the school would not appeal, but hoped university lawyers could work out an alternative plan with NCAA lawyers over the next few days to include Howard in the tournament. But John Mercer, a special legal consultant retained by the university, said yesterday he doubted any alternative plan could be formulated.

"The NCAA left it open and said we could send over a proposal tonight and they would look it over," said Mercer. "But they were very arrogant about it, and frankly, they said they didn't see how anything could be done."

NCAA attorneys refused comment as they left the hearing.

After Penn made his decision, Howard chief counsel Francis Smith asked him to consider a plan in which today's games would be played as scheduled. The four winners with the highest rankings would get a second-round bye with the remaining four winners facing the next four highest-ranked teams that did not earn playoff berths, one of which is Howard.

However, the plan included some Thursday and Monday games in later rounds so the tournament's championship game would finish as originally scheduled and be televised on ESPN.

"If there was some way to give Howard a chance to play one of the other teams in the tournament, I would hope the parties could work it out," said Penn. "But as I said to counsel on Wednesday in my chambers, I don't know if there is any resolution to this immediate problem."

Cheek agreed with some of Penn's observations that canceling today's games would cause problems for other schools involved and conceded the judge's statements that Howard's alternative playoff plan would face obstacles such as academic schedules and upcoming school vacations.

Cheek said the university would pursue its lawsuit which charges the NCAA violated its contract with Howard to choose tournament fields fairly and claimed Howard would be a victim of antitrust laws by being excluded. The university is contending berths were allocated with more emphasis on favoritism among schools that have representatives or advisors on the NCAA selection committee.

"The factual situation the judge had to weigh is one that is hard because it does constitute harm to others," said Cheek. "But it was certainly worth our efforts because you never know how a case may go. There is merit and this is an indication we were treated in a shabby fashion. We have laid the foundation of a jury trial based on merits. We will then be able to put the {selection} committee members on the witness stand and have them come clean."

In yesterday morning's hearing, Howard attorneys focused on one particular issue. Howard entered the final weekend of the season tied for No. 20 in the rankings with North Texas State. Howard defeated then No. 14-ranked Delaware State, 12-7, while North Texas State was a 10-5 winner over Louisiana Tech, which finished 3-8.

Howard was ranked No. 18 in the most recent poll. North Texas State was ranked No. 16. NCAA attorney Donald Bucklin explained North Texas State was moved up higher in the poll due to its overall strength of schedule. Penn asked Bucklin several times, if strength of schedule was so important, why was North Texas State not ranked higher the previous week?

Bucklin continually answered there were a number of factors and it was the organization's contention that the weekly rankings are "only for public interest" and not based on the same criteria as the tournament selections.

The past week of proceedings, said Mercer, has given Howard more encouragement to pursue its lawsuit.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Mercer. "{The NCAA} didn't take us seriously and thought we would go away, but we have been getting calls from all over the country this week. More calls have been from predominantly white schools that have traditionally been left out of the selection process than from black schools. The NCAA is manipulative, and we are going to show they have an archaic system that discriminates against a lot of people, not just blacks."