The University of Maryland yesterday pushed back the beginning of men's basketball practice five days as a self-imposed penalty for NCAA violations committed before the 1989-90 season.

The Terrapins will begin practice on Oct. 20 instead of the official Oct. 15 starting date because Coach Gary Williams and members of his staff have admitted to witnessing preseason pickup games before Oct. 15, 1989. Williams and staff members have denied conducting any organized practices before that date.

"What we're eager to do is manage our program as well and as correctly as we can," said Andy Geiger, who started his job as Maryland's athletic director on Oct. 1. "Part of our responsibility is to be willing to accept self-imposed penalties."

Geiger denied the main reason for the penalty was to mollify the NCAA, which still is considering what action to take, if any, in the case. But David Berst, the NCAA director of enforcement, said the Committee on Infractions would look favorably on the move to delay the start of practice. That group is expected to discuss the case in early November.

"Sure, it has relevance," Berst said. "Actions taken by institutions based on their own findings are always considered to be mitigating factors. They've done something that's meaningful."

Geiger said the move also was designed to send a message to the "players and coaches so they could understand what context we would approach basketball."

According to Berst, self-imposition of penalties is common. "If you use it in the broadest context, being slapped down, that happens over 200 times a year," he said. "But to do something like move a practice date, it's probably more like a half-dozen."

This year, Maryland's basketball program was placed on three years' probation by the NCAA for violations that occurred mainly during the three-year tenure of former coach Bob Wade, who resigned under pressure May 12, 1989.