Dick Schultz, executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, yesterday emphasized that the serious nature of ticket-selling violations by athletes and a graduate assistant coach at the University of Maryland was a major factor in the stiff NCAA penalties levied against the school.

Schultz also said that where Maryland cooperated with the investigation, other schools probably have been able to evade more serious charges by suppressing evidence and resorting to legal technicalities.

"If you want to stonewall the process, you can certainly do it," Schultz said. "With the limitations placed on your ability to investigate as a private organization, you really have to look for friendly witnesses, people who are willing to give you information and cooperate. If people don't want to cooperate, then it becomes a very difficult task."

During a luncheon yesterday with editors and reporters at The Washington Post, Schultz also discussed such topics as the UNLV basketball team being able to delay its NCAA sanctions and defend its men's championship, academic exceptions and testing, and more comprehensive financial grants to athletes.

Schultz, noting that the NCAA Committee on Infractions was a "fairly autonomous group," said he also backed its punishment of Maryland -- a three-year probation, no participation in the 1990-91 and 1991-92 NCAA basketball tournaments and no live televised games this season. That penalty, announced in March, has been criticized as too harsh by many at the university and among area media.

"The one thing they keep pointing out, which people here don't realize, is they {the infractions committee} felt that the Maryland process was much more serious than even Kentucky, for example -- and that's one I've heard them cite," Schultz said. "Kentucky's violations centered basically on a one-time payment of $1,000 by one coach to one athlete.

"They {the infractions committee} say the thing that concerned them at Maryland was a plan {to sell complimentary tickets} that was in place for several years to return a substantial amount of money to athletes. . . . For some reason, people say, 'Gee, that's not very important.' "

Maryland was cited for 27 violations in 13 categories of NCAA rules, most during the three-year tenure of former coach Bob Wade. Wade succeeded Lefty Driesell, who came to College Park in 1969 and left after the cocaine-induced death of star player Len Bias in 1986.

According to the NCAA infractions report, "A large number of basketball student-athletes, including most of the team in 1988 . . . sold their complimentary admissions to the 1987 and 1988 Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournaments, some with the assistance of a coaching staff member."

The staff member was Jeff Adkins, a player at Maryland in 1981-85 and later an assistant coach. He told the NCAA the practice of selling tickets was "longstanding and had involved members of the basketball staff, in addition to himself." Driesell has said he knew of no sale of tickets by his players and Wade has refused to discuss the NCAA report.

Andy Geiger, Maryland's athletic director, said last night an NCAA ruling Monday that Maryland had effectively dealt with a violation last summer showed that the school was headed in the right direction. He wants to move on from the troubles of the past. "The ruling yesterday from the NCAA says that we are making progress," Geiger said. "That's what we want to take to the bank."

The NCAA said at the time of the penalty that the ticket selling was the most serious violation of an individual rule and that Maryland had failed to "meet its obligations to insure institutional control." The infractions committee also said Wade lied to NCAA and school investigators and misled investigators.

Schultz said some recent cases "have indicated that the infractions committee is not going to penalize somebody on inadequate evidence. Even if the enforcement staff feels that there is information here for a finding, they're going to have to prove to the infractions committee that this actually happened without a shadow of a doubt."

Still, Schultz thought Maryland did the right thing by cooperating.

"It's a tough penalty, but perhaps it would have been tougher," Schultz said. "I don't profess to understand or know or interpret the thinking of the infractions committee. . . . But it's really important, if we're ever going to get to the point where we have complete integrity in college athletics, the schools have got to cooperate. They've got to want it to happen."

Schultz dismissed a report that CBS Sports, which televises the NCAA basketball tournament, had intervened to obtain a revised penalty against UNLV, thereby permitting the school to defend its title this season. "That's about as ridiculous a statement as I've heard," Schultz said.

He said the UNLV case was vastly different from others, in that Coach Jerry Tarkanian had obtained a permanent injunction that prevented the school from punishing him.

"This is really not a typical infractions case and that's where people get confused," Schultz said. "You can't compare it to Maryland or Kansas or Kentucky or somebody else. What you're dealing with here is a show-cause order."

Schultz said the NCAA still was searching for a better way to handle athletes' admissions, with the eventual solution most likely to be an indexing formula that will take into consideration test scores, core curriculum and grade-point average.

Schultz said he favors a better financial aid package for Division I athletes, but he noted, "I have a lot of problems with a straight stipend, because then you establish an employer-employee relationship with all types of problems."