COLUMBIA, MO. -- The office is a bit smaller than the seventh-winningest active coach in major college basketball might deserve -- or demand. On one wall is the box score from his 300th victory. Game balls from numbers 400 and 500 sit atop a wooden case.

"And this," said Norm Stewart, pointing to a picture of his Missouri players in a post-game embrace, "is my first victory over Kansas {on Jan 15, 1968}. The player whose face you can barely see made two free throws after the game was over to win it. We're down a point at their place, he gets a one-and-one and makes them both."

There is a picture of Stewart, 55, with the college coach most revered by other coaches, Hank Iba. And a trophy that recalls Stewart's having pitched Missouri to the 1954 NCAA baseball championship. And a framed red sign that alludes to his Stormin' Norman days: "Sit Down Norm."

Sideline eruptions have been less frequent, owing to surgery in February 1989 that included the removal of his gall bladder and the discovery of colon cancer. He missed the final 14 games that season. Experimental chemotherapy seems to have the cancer under control.

What troubles Stewart now, what angers him to the point of being more combative than other coaches in similar positions is that in a few months all he may have left after 35 years in college basketball are memories.

"I could be taken out of the profession" by an NCAA investigation, he said. "I could be out of something I've spent most of my life in. . . . I don't think I deserve to, but I could be."

If anyone endured a worse period in early 1989, Stewart would not care to hear about it. During that time, his cancer was detected and the NCAA probe of his program was revealed. En route to a game against Oklahoma, Stewart collapsed on the team plane. He eventually was admitted to a hospital here, where his wife of 35 years already had been a longtime patient.

"Not many people realize that Virginia had worse surgery {for a benign tumor} than I had," he said. "Because I'm in such a public position, people naturally would ask about my health. She and I joked about that. When we'd get home, after someone made a fuss over me, she'd say: 'Oh, Norm's fine. I'm about to die, but he's all right.' "

Physically, Stewart does seem fine. In another of those ironies that keep popping up, he is scheduled for a checkup near the end of the month; during its Sept. 28-30 meeting, the NCAA Infractions Committee has scheduled Missouri's hearing.

Stewart succinctly summarized his professional health, saying: "My first 23 years here I didn't even have a file with the NCAA. Now I do."

That file is a thick one -- and apparently began after Stewart a few years ago decided that Detroit was a suburb of this mid-Missouri university and part of its obvious recruiting turf. Several of the allegations center on two players, Daniel Lyton and P.J. Mays, no longer enrolled here.

Among the NCAA charges:

That Stewart "gave false and misleading information" about the use of a private plane for recruiting purposes. And that he also misled interviewers about a visit to a recruit's home and the arrangement made for picking up a letter-of-intent from a recruit.

That Missouri representatives, presumably assistants Rich Daly and Bob Sundvold, "acted contrary to the principles of ethical conduct, involving providing false and misleading information during NCAA interviews." One of them allegedly also tried to persuade "players or recruits to provide false and misleading information during the young men's interviews with the NCAA staff."

That Mays received financial aid for which he was not eligible during his first semester at Missouri. The school earlier admitted that Mays also received round-trip airfare to return home to obtain information about his high school academic records.

That on several occasions in the summer of 1988 members of the coaching staff provided meals, transportation, summer camp employment and entertainment for several prospective student-athletes.

That on July 1, 1988, a Missouri representative arranged for a tutor to assist a recruit in improving his American College Test scores and that the representative gave the recruit $100 to pay for the session.

In addition, newspaper reports have charged that Mays and two other players were given $100 each by Sundvold for rent payments.

In the book "Raw Recruits," a source said he was told that current center Doug Smith's standardized college entrance exam was "taken care of" and that Daly "reportedly" offered a Detroit high school coach $20,000 to influence Lyton to sign with Missouri. Also, the book says a Detroit middleman named Vic Adams "brought the Mizzou letter of intent by the Lyton home himself."

Stewart's side:

"Not to take anything away from Vic Adams, because he is a good person, but if you would go and visit Vic Adams you would come away and say {he} wouldn't be your agent. . . .

"Right away {when reports of the investigation surfaced nearly 20 months ago}, I'm thrown into the category of the guy in Iraq. And on what basis? On the basis that we had a guy pick up a letter? Well, big deal. We didn't. But big deal. Or we took kids on a float trip? Big deal.

"I am concerned {about all NCAA rules}. But at the same time I'm not as concerned about some of them as I've always been about: Don't give him money; don't give him a car; don't pimp for him. Those are your major concerns.

"If we haven't dotted all our i's or crossed all our t's, well, let's do something about it. We've made mistakes. We've admitted them. {Sundvold was suspended three months for admitting to violations involving air transportation for Mays.}

"I haven't won all my games, but I have enjoyed a couple of things. One of them is a good reputation. So I don't want that to go down the drain without a fight. Quite honestly, I'm in a position where it can go down the drain."

Appearance of Propriety

The entrance to Hearnes Center suggests that Missouri has its priorities in proper order. Offices for officials involved with eligibility and academic progress come before the one occupied by Stewart.

That his office is across the hall from Athletic Director Dick Tamburo seems appropriate, because the university has distanced itself somewhat from Stewart.

"They hired two outside attorneys to represent them," Stewart said, "so I in turn, at my own expense, hired my own. And so did the two assistants {Daly and Sundvold}. It's been an experience."

Has Stewart been disappointed by lack of support from university officials?

"I don't believe I've ever been quoted as saying lack of support," he said, smiling. "I would have enjoyed having more."

Stewart arrived here as a player 37 years ago from the sports-active town of Shelbyville in northeastern Missouri. His wardrobe: Three pairs of jeans ("We called them overalls back then"), two shirts, one suit and a pair of shoes.

After helping Mizzou win the NCAA baseball title in 1954 and becoming an all-American in basketball in 1956, Stewart tried both sports professionally for a year before returning as an assistant coach.

For six years in the early '60s, Stewart coached what is now known as Northern Iowa, the school that, with an awkward three-point shot at the buzzer, beat his mighty Tigers in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season. Stewart became Missouri's coach in 1967 and has compiled a career record of 552-273.

Before listing their allegations, the authors of "Raw Recruits" wrote: "People who know Missouri coach Norm Stewart say he would never countenance rule-breaking. They say his principles take their place right up there with him on the pedestal he has occupied in that state. . . .

"Just as emphatically, the same people describe him as a competitor without peer, a man who didn't merely suffer from four straight first-round postseason losses during the '80s, but chafed under them, because he knew that many of the teams partaking of college basketball's prosperous new era were flouting NCAA rules.

"In 1983, Stewart concluded that his top assistant, Gene Jones, hadn't been delivering the requisite talent. He replaced Jones with an affable, beetle-browed journeyman coach named Rich Daly."

In his office last week, Stewart said: "The first 20 years we would have great runs and then miss a couple of years, build back up and then go down because we didn't recruit great players. Now we have. We've got kids in each class."

History of Ups and Downs

In 1973 Missouri won 21 games; the next year it won 12. In 1976 Missouri won 26 games; in 1978 and '79 it suffered losing seasons. Since the start of the 1985-86 season, however, Missouri has won 119 games and two Big Eight regular season titles.

"We've gotten into Detroit," he said. "But whenever Michigan would start recruiting a kid we would drop out. There was a pocket of kids there -- and we could go in there. And those kids were better than our second {high school} kids in Missouri. Our first kids are as good as anywhere in the country.

"We got lucky, maybe. We picked a kid or two {half the 12-man 1989-90 team was from Detroit} and they enjoyed it here. I loved those kids, loved to coach them. They loved to play -- and they'd go to school. So they had success here."

Missouri has made the NCAA tournament nine of the last 11 years and been ranked No. 1 in the country for parts of 1982 and last season. Except for gaining the semifinals of the Midwest Region two years ago, when Daly was serving as interim coach, the Tigers have been bounced in the first round the last five seasons.

Significant losses since the most recent tournament setback have come off the court. One was sophomore point guard Travis Ford, a Kentucky native who transferred to the University of Kentucky apparently because of possible probation at Missouri. Also, gifted swingman Anthony Peeler will be academically ineligible until at least the start of the Big Eight season. That leaves Smith as the only returning regular.

"But that's a good starting point," Stewart said.

One unusual point regarding Stewart is his choosing to publicly speak out against the allegations and hint about a possible lawsuit if any penalties should affect him.

"What recourse do I have?" he said. "How much financial backing do I want to put into this? Lots of people chuck it at the beginning, realizing that many times that's where it ends. They leave rather than spend the money. Just go ahead and write the book and say goodbye. I've chosen the other way. I want to protect my reputation. But I've also got to consider that I've got to protect my family."

Of the charges that he misled investigators, Stewart said: "They put four people in a room and couldn't come up with a straight story. At the same time, out of that, I get an allegation for giving false and misleading information. I read that and said: 'Enough is enough.' That's when I had the press conference" in mid-July.

According to reports, the most unnerving NCAA charge is the one alleging "a lack of appropriate control and monitoring in the administration of the institution's intercollegiate men's basketball program." Of the 20 programs charged with that since 1985, 19 have received at least a one-year ban from postseason competition.

"I'm no different from anybody else," Stewart said. "I don't mind being part of the solution. But some changes have got to be made. The big problem is that when it's over, and if they've nailed you, your voice is diminished. You're just another guy yelping because he got wounded."

Is the process fair?

"Don't know," he said. "I haven't gone through all of it yet."