NEW ORLEANS -- They used to pack the old gym on the corner of McAlister and Freret. The fans would wedge their way into the 5,000-seat arena, body on sweaty body, and yell and scream for a Tulane basketball victory. When it was all over, the students would walk several hundred yards back to the library or several blocks to bars like the Boot, depending on their academic intensity. The local fans might make the short walk to oak-lined St. Charles Avenue and trolley stop No. 36, right across from the zoo, where they could catch a streetcar named perspire to take them back to the city.

"It was such an event," said one student recalled with a bit resignation.

But this will be the third consecutive winter with no such events. In mid-April 1985, Tulane President Eamon Kelly, with subsequent support of the board of administrators, eliminated the men's basketball program in the wake of scandal involving point-shaving, drugs and illegal payments to players.

"I was a basketball fan," Kelly said recently, "and I, like everyone else, have missed the program."

"I was a basketball fan," Kelly said recently, "and I, like everyone else, have missed the program."

But Kelly takes pride in having taken decisive action to stop athletic abuses, and he doesn't think campus life has been hurt badly. And donations to the university were up by $5 million last year.

"I don't think there has been any perceptible difference," Kelly said. "We have had a large number of applicants from around the country with high quality academic qualifications. All the other indicators seem to say there isn't a significant difference in university life. The morale of the faculty and the students appears to be quite high."

This year's senior class is the last one to have been at Tulane in the spring of 1985. For the rest of the undergraduate population, the excitement of going to basketball games is hearsay.

After emerging from the library, Lisa Schild stood next to her black BMW and echoed the statements of several students. "I was a cheerleader in high school," said Schild, a junior from Florida, "and I was looking forward to going to games. The people who are seniors say they miss the games."

Junior Peter Ricca, who tends bar at The Metro just off campus, doesn't like empty winters.

"They think it stinks," Ricca said. . "The team was good and people liked going. Everybody surrounded the court. It wasn't like the Superdome {where Tulane plays football}, where you're 50 yards away from the field."

The Central Building houses Tulane's gym. It couldn't be more different than the Superdome where Tulane plays football. The building, which has a WPA look to it. It is in the middle of campus and has bleacher seating that comes within a few feet of the court.

"You could study in the library until 6 or 7 then go over to the game," said senior Allison McEnerny of Nashville. "You could yell, get all the energy out of your system for two hours and then go back and study.

"We always had one game after Mardi Gras and everybody would save their blue, green and white beads and then throw them on the court as soon as Tulane would score. It was an amazing feeling of spirit that hasn't been here since my freshman year."

Finding replacement activities was harder for some than others.

"Pound beers, study and think about going to Europe for vacations," said Arnie Tannenbaum, when asked what people did instead. Tannenbaum, now a second-year medical student, worked at the student newspaper during the scandal. "People don't remember basketball, so they don't remember big-time basketball here and Tulane was big time. My first year without basketball, I was lost three nights a week."

Though Kelly said he thought students generally were aware of the national issues in college athletics, Tannenbaum wasn't as sure.

"The average Tulane student doesn't concern themselves with the idea that college athletics is in poor condition," he said.

Senior Peter Brown was one of the broadcasters of Tulane games for the campus radio station.

"There's a feeling that we've had our punishment," Brown said, "and now the question is, 'Why are we stalling?' "

Joline Matsunami is Tulane's women's basketball coach. By winning a coin flip with the volleyball coach, she and her program are now in the offices that then-Coach Ned Fowler and the men's basketball team used until he was fired and the team was dropped. Matsunami said that one naturally feels more pressure to adhere to the letter and spirit of the law after there has been a scandal, but added that "there has been no big brother effect."

Matsunami said she would gladly give up her office for the return of men's basketball. She recognizes that having a men's team will bring in more money, exposure and, in the future, might help bring a new facility.

"One thing I would hope is that the university will trust a new coach and be patient with him," she said. "He'll be starting on the ground floor, bringing in 10 or 12 student athletes who can do the work and play. But it's going to take at least two or three years to get off the ground."

There has been talk that Tulane will try to have a team ready to play for the 1990-91 season. Kelly, who worked for several years in Washington in the Johnson administration, would like to let the bureaucratic process take its course. Other officials within the athletic department also are confident Tulane again will have basketball, although Kelly won't go that far yet. He has formed a committee to examine the situation.

"There has been a significant enough improvement in the national environment with the President's Commission in the NCAA and with Proposition 48 to warrant constituting a committee to look into those questions," said Kelly, who added that Tulane is not interested in Division II or III status..

Tulane's athletic department is in transition again after Athletic Director and football coach Mack Brown resigned last week to become head football coach at North Carolina. Whoever takes over will be involved in the decision of when to resume basketball, once the board of administrators makes a final decision.

Matsunami said she understands the slow pace.

"The wounds need time to heal on the academic side," she said. "It was a blow to Tulane as an academic institution."

But Kelly pulled the plug 2 1/2 years ago, and he will have the most to say about when to play again. He cautiously avoided the question when asked recently whether there will be men's basketball within five years.

"I'd like to see the outcome of the study before I say anything," Kelly said with the slightest of smiles. "I'm much more analytical in my old age, and less responsive to gut feelings."