If the federal government is successful in its bid to overturn the College Football Association's contract with Capital Cities/ABC Inc., it will cause a massive realignment of colleges and broadcasters into a pattern resembling that of college basketball, experts on both sides of the issue said yesterday.

A government victory would also accelerate the reshuffling of college athletic conferences and likely force many independent schools -- those with good broadcast appeal -- into conferences, while leaving others to struggle or to try to form new conferences of their own.

And it would very likely mean lower fees for broadcast rights.

Whether these changes would result in more football on television, as the government is seeking, remains a question.

Kevin Arquit of the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency bringing the action, pointed to events that followed a 1984 Supreme Court decision holding that the National Collegiate Athletic Association violated antitrust laws in acting as the sole bargaining agent for college television rights.

"After the NCAA case there was a great increase in number of football games on television. Rights fees went down. I would suspect that a similar process would occur" given an FTC victory, Arquit said.

But Lewis A. Engman of the Washington law firm of Winston & Strawn, which represents the CFA, argued that "if the FTC were successful . . . there would be less college football on television" because ratings would be too low to attract broadcast interests.

The FTC on Thursday accused the CFA and ABC of illegally conspiring to restrict the number of televised football games. The agency seeks to have the CFA-ABC contract, covering the 1991-95 seasons and valued at some $300 million, declared void.

In its complaint, the FTC said the contract "foreclosed and frustrated" competition for broadcast rights to college games, leaving viewers "deprived of the selection of college football games that would otherwise have been televised."

Because of the contract, "there is no competition {for television viewers} among colleges on Saturday afternoon," said Arquit, director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition. "There are tens of millions of football viewers out there and they should be given the choice" of which games are shown.

"That choice should be determined by the marketplace and not by some private arrangement," Arquit said. The complaint was the result of a five-year investigation by the FTC.

Broadcast sources said the number of hours college football would be telecast nationally would decline by about a third under the new contracts. A CFA official said the number of games televised would rise, because of regional coverage.

Network and CFA representatives pooh-poohed the complaint. "I have never heard anyone complain that there aren't enough games on television, other than the FTC staff," said Engman, a former FTC chairman.

And a CFA spokeswoman noted that the legal process is so long and cumbersome, the contract might be over before the issue is resolved.

But there was wide agreement that this was another significant step in the ongoing realignment of college sports. Since the NCAA case, there has been a steady proliferation of college sports onto cable systems and regional broadcast hookups. In popular sports such as basketball, major powers strike deals, either on their own or through conferences, as best they can.

Conferences that can regularly provide top teams going head to head, preferably with followings in big television markets, get the best terms. Notre Dame has made its own contract with NBC, said to be worth $75 million over five years.

But with far more sellers than buyers, colleges have been hard put to keep prices up.

If the FTC wins, said Rick Bay, athletic director at Minnesota, "some schools will prosper because they won't be tied to big packages. They'll make their own deals or get bigger cuts out of a conference deal. Some schools will be hurt because they'll never be on television. . . . The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer."

Tom Hansen, commissioner of the Pacific-10 conference, said, "I hate to be a pessimist. But I think you would see a further diminution of negotiating leverage on the colleges -- a more difficult position for the colleges. Ideally, you have one negotiating arm for the colleges. The more fractionalized that becomes, the less advantageous it is for the colleges."