Something more than pride and morale will be at stake as Coach Elliot Uzelac and his staff undertake the task of bringing Navy's football program back from depths it has reached only twice before in school history. Uzelac's success or failure will go a long way toward deciding how the Naval Academy Athletic Association does business in the future.

Although its financial situation has not yet become dire, the NAAA -- the private, nonprofit organization responsible for supporting and promoting Navy athletics -- is running a budget deficit this school year of approximately $200,000. Because the prospects of gaining unbudgeted revenue from television or postseason appearances by the football or men's basketball teams are dim, it is likely that the NAAA will end up with its first year-end deficit in more than a decade.

Because Navy's football and basketball teams were successful in years when its expenditures were relatively low, the NAAA has built up the financial capacity to sustain such deficits for several more years. However, it is unlikely that Navy's basketball program ever will have another David Robinson. And it is unlikely, said Deputy Athletic Director Cdr. Jim Campbell, a former Navy wide receiver, that a potential Heisman Trophy candidate is lurking anywhere among the current Brigade of Midshipmen.

"Without any question, we are in Hurt City with the program right now," Campbell said earlier this fall. "There is no {Napoleon} McCallum. There are no . . . all-East kind of guys."

That statement was borne out earlier this week, when the Associated Press and the the Eastern College Athletic Conference announced their Division I-A all-East teams. For the first time since at least 1975 (Navy's media guides have listed honorees only since 1976), no Midshipmen were selected to the first team. And only senior center Matt Felt (AP's second team) and junior linebacker Mark Pimpo (AP honorable mention) were selected at all. That's Navy's worst numerical all-East showing also since at least '75.

The result is that, going into their game Saturday against Army, the Midshipmen have lost 15 of 17 games; their last victory against a I-A team was 21 games ago. Only during a 2-18 stretch in 1969 and '70 and a 2-23-2 stretch from 1946 to '48 have they been worse.

According to Uzelac, Navy's football future is "very good."

According to Athletic Director J.O. (Bo) Coppedge's current deficit-elimination plan, Uzelac's assessment better be correct.

"How do I expect to remedy the {budget} situation?" Coppedge said. "I have a lot of faith in the fact that, as down as our football program is right now, Elliot will bring it back and we'll be a prime target to go on TV . . . All we have to do to get our fair share of the television market is be competitive."

Think it isn't that simple?

"This is not the first year {Navy has faced a prospective year-end budget deficit}," Coppedge said. "We would have had some in the last three or four years, but we got pulled out by an unexpected football TV appearance or the NCAA {basketball tournament} money."

So, basically because Robinson and McCallum were playing for its teams, the NAAA was able to maintain balanced or surplus budgets during that period?

"Right," Coppedge said.

Clearly, what happened with Robinson was as unique for Navy as it would have been for North Carolina. It is hardly unusual when an unheralded, mostly unrecruited high school football player suddenly fills out and becomes an all-star in college. But then again, it is hardly usual for such a person -- or any person, for that matter -- to do for a football program what one very tall person can do for a basketball program.

Neither of Navy's last first-team all-America football players were besieged by college recruiters. And during 1975 all-America defensive back Chet Moeller's four years at the academy, the Midshipmen were 4-7, 4-7, 4-7 and 7-4; McCallum, honored in 1983 and '85, played full seasons for teams that were 8-3-1 Liberty Bowl winners (in Eddie Meyers' senior year), 6-5, 3-8 and 4-7.

Given that situation, Navy, which for obvious reasons is extremely reluctant to cut its athletic budget, would seem to have two choices: get better or get an easier schedule.

However, because three of the NAAA's five main sources of income (television and postseason revenue, ticket sales, concesssion sales, NAAA memberships that cost just $12 per year, investments made with surplus funds) and its football recruiting are tied closely to having an attractive football schedule, replacing such annual opponents as Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse with lesser teams is out.

Coppedge could raise the annual cost of an NAAA membership. He could end the current NAAA membership program, under which members are given football seating priority by class year, and start a booster club -- after all, Army and Air Force have them. He also could go on what he called "a fund-raising episode."

"But," he said, "I would like not to do that. You get some fingers in the pie you wish you didn't have in there with that. But I would do that before I would cut out sports. But before that I'd have to be able to answer the question: Have you done everything you can do personally without coming to me with your hand out? I'd have to be able to answer, 'Yes,' or {prospective donors} wouldn't be very receptive."

Thus, for now, it is up to Uzelac and his staff. And while he said NAAA officials have "never implied that we must win so we can be financially stable," he understands precisely what is happening and what must happen.

"I think you have to have {games against teams like Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse} for obvious reasons," he said. "One, to make us a better team and two, to meet some of our financial obligations. But I think everybody in the country is down to that."

"I think the future is very good. I can't give you a timetable because I don't know when it will be. I never said we were going to turn anything around quickly. I said we'll win here and we will. It's how fast we can correct our weaknesses. And the only way you do that when you have them, and there's no one else, is recruiting."