There are enough zebras at the Crystal Gateway Marriott this weekend to fill a zoo.

The 10th annual convention of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) got underway yesterday with 383 referees and umpires from around the nation converging on Arlington for a long weekend of business and fun.

For once, the most misunderstood figures in sports are able to be among themselves, with no one yelling "Get in the game, blue!" or "If you had one more eye, you'd be a cyclops."

The main event of the opening day was a panel discussion between representatives of the media and the four major professional sports leagues.

Billed as "On the Record," the panel session was the first of its kind, pitting the media against officials in an attempt to answer, once and for all, some of the questions officials are asked most often:

Does the phantom double play exist? Do NBA superstars get away with an extra step or three on the way to the basket? Does instant replay in the NFL do anything but take up time? Does the NHL encourage fighting?

All these questions -- and other, more functionally important ones addressing violence in sports, the relationship between the media and officials, and the reasons why there are no female officials in any of the major leagues -- were touched upon.

Representing the officials were Ed Rush, one of the NBA's senior officials; Art McNally, NFL supervisor of officials; Marty Springstead, American League supervisor of umpires; and Bryan Lewis, NHL director of officiating.

Media representatives were Gene Policinski, managing editor/sports of USA Today; Tom Barnidge, editor of the Sporting News; and Tom Hamill, editor of Referee magazine.

For once, the crowd was in the referees' favor, as the conventioneers filled the room and didn't hesitate to roar when officials made cracks about the media. And there were plenty.

Springstead got in the most barbs. "The general media -- the beat writers and such -- don't know a whole lot about the game," he said, bringing laughs of approval from the audience. "They'll be off getting a beer or something, and when something important happens they'll ask their colleague what happened and just jot it down."

But the discussion was mostly serious.

Rush said NBA leaders are focusing their attention this offseason on the increasing level of violence in the league. "It's beginning to resemble the WWF {World Wrestling Federation} out there. I don't think I have ever called a flagrant foul on anybody, but I predict that in the 1990-91 season you'll see it called."

Springstead declined to comment on the lack of female umpires, because Pam Postema, a former minor league umpire, has filed a discrimination suit against the AL. But he did say, "She had a fair chance." Predictably, McNally defended the NFL's instant-replay system. But in a surprise statement, Rush predicted that "in a few years," the NBA will use instant replay on two calls: buzzer shots and three-pointers.

Lewis said he is trying to change the NHL's hooligan image. "Our rulebook has changed in the last few years. The third man into a fight gets thrown out. Baseball has more bench-clearing brawls than we do."