The University of Nevada-Las Vegas will be allowed to defend its NCAA basketball championship this season after all, under an unprecedented ruling by the Committee on Infractions that was accepted immediately yesterday by UNLV President Robert Maxson.

The Committee on Infractions, rejecting four alternative penalties proposed by the institution, offered UNLV two choices: to play in this season's tournament without Coach Jerry Tarkanian and then be banned from the 1991-92 tournament, or to play in this season's tournament with Tarkanian and then be banned from live television (an additional sanction) and postseason play in 1991-92.

Maxson took about 30 seconds to choose the second option after receiving a communique from the NCAA at 10 a.m. yesterday, according to a UNLV spokesman. Later, at a jammed news conference, Maxson said, "Historically, we ended today the 13 years of litigation between Jerry Tarkanian and the NCAA. All court rulings are history."

The compromise means that the NCAA will not face additional threatened litigation from players on the current team who were barely in elementary school at the time the infractions occurred. Four of the team's five starters are seniors, including expected NBA lottery picks Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon.

The decision came as a surprise to many NCAA observers, since no previous NCAA postseason ban had been adjusted or reversed. The University of Kansas was particularly shocked since the Jayhawks were unable to defend their 1988 title because of recruiting violations.

Del Brinkman, a vice president at Kansas and the school's longtime faculty representative, issued a one-sentence statement. "I didn't think it was possible to negotiate with the NCAA," he said.

In changing a postseason ban for the first time in its history, the Committee of Infractions said it was "in the best interests of the Association" to end litigation in this case. According to the report, the committee viewed as "new information" Tarkanian's agreement to be penalized personally, thus allowing a special hearing last summer.

The committee also said in its eight-page supplemental report that this was not an infractions appeal, but what the NCAA calls "a show-cause" hearing on why additional sanctions should not be taken against the institution for failing to take personnel actions only the institution can implement. This distinction, sources said, is a committee attempt to discourage other appeals in light of the NCAA ruling.

Yesterday's decision does not affect an ongoing infractions case concerning UNLV's recruitment of former New York prep star Lloyd Daniels.

The lengthiest infractions case in NCAA history began in 1977 when Tarkanian obtained an injunction in Nevada state court on the issue of due process, prohibiting the university from suspending him for two seasons, as the NCAA imposed in penalizing the school for recruiting violations. The NCAA fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it finally prevailed two years ago.

After 15 more months of litigation in the Nevada courts, resulting in the setting aside last March of all injunctions against the NCAA, it informed the university it would proceed to impose an appropriate penalty on the institution and decided on the ban from this year's tournament.

Tarkanian was in Vancouver yesterday, promoting the Runnin' Rebels season opener Saturday against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and he ordered his players to withhold comments until he returned to Las Vegas last night and talked to them.

The university released a statement from Tarkanian, concluding, "I am in accord with Dr. Maxson and accept this decision."

In the four-paragraph statement, he also said, "These times have been an immense hardship on me and my family, and my staff and players . . . Innocent players and staff will not be hurt."

"I really think 13 years is a long time," said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. "I basically support the infractions committee any way they go . . . I think what they're doing on the whole is a pretty good job the past five years since the members voted {in stiffer sanctions for violators}. I give them the benefit of the doubt on this one."

Roy Williams, who took over as coach at Kansas the season after the Jayhawks became the first national champion to be barred from defending, said, "I sure wish they'd given us a multiple choice penalty."

The ruling is not expected to have substantial financial implications on UNLV or the Big West Conference to which it belongs, said Commissioner Jim Haney. Basically, he said, the money lost by UNLV's television ban next year should be offset by a higher NCAA tournament payoff, under the NCAA's new distribution system of its seven-year, $1 billion deal with CBS Sports.