NASHVILLE, JAN. 8 -- The NCAA's Division I members conducted convention by presidential-driven locomotive today, as they overwhelmingly passed a variety of reform proposals backed by the Presidents Commission.

However, the schools managed to get through only one of three hotly contested proposals concerning Division I membership criteria. After nearly an hour's worth of debate on the second proposal carried them well past their scheduled time for adjournment, they called it a day without a taking a vote.

Nevertheless, it was a day of breathtaking success for the presidents, whose previous efforts at cost-cutting and reform mostly had been miserable failures.

In the most significant votes, the members voted to:

Place limits on the number of coaches in all sports other than football and basketball for the first time.

Cut the previously regulated football and basketball coaching staffs.

Phase in the elimination of athletic dormitories by 1996.

Phase in the reduction of training table meals to one per day.

Create an annual recruiting certification program for coaches that will require them to pass a standardized national test on NCAA recruiting rules before being allowed to recruit off campus.

Ask the coaches in each sport to help develop a legislative proposal for the 1992 convention that would create an approximately three-month recruiting period in each sport.

"Somebody came up to me and said, 'You guys are really playing smash-mouth,' " Wisconsin President Donna Shalala said with a grin.

Most observers believe they will be able to continue doing it -- even in the area of membership criteria. The so-called restructuring package would make Division I schools subject to new requirements on scheduling, numbers of sports they offer for men and women and amount of financial aid they give. The package has the Presidents Commission's backing even though schools may have to put more money into athletic budgets in order to avoid dropping into Division II or III.

"This thing is on a fast track," Murray State Athletic Director Michael Strickland said after seeing the scheduling element of the restructuring package pass by a 214-112 vote. "Based on what I've seen today, they're in control of the convention."

Arizona State Athletic Director Charles Harris, who is attending his 20th convention, said, "I have never seen anything like this."

The cost-cutting and recruiting proposals were decided by staggering margins. The vote to approve the overall coaching staff limits was 305-23. The Division I-A football staff cuts (voted on by only the I-A schools) were approved 92-15. The Division I-AA football cuts were approved 83-9 with two abstentions.

Effective Aug. 1, 1992, basketball coaching staffs will shrink from five to four, Division I-A football staffs from 16 to 13, Division I-AA football staffs from 12 to nine. The reductions will come mostly through the elimination of graduate, part-time and volunteer positions.

Several delegates spoke in favor of amendments that would have spared particular sports from the coaching cuts, but most prefaced their remarks with comments that indicated they knew their efforts were futile.

"I feel steamrolled," said John Mackovic, Illinois' football coach and athletic director.

Northern Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby's plea for wrestling coaches began: "At the risk of becoming additional roadkill on the NCAA's highway to reform . . . "

Those sentiments delighted Iowa President Hunter Rawlings. People standing in the way of the proposals "are referring to themselves as roadkills," he said. "That's heartening."

But there were those who disagreed.

"There is an interesting climate, don't you think?" asked Texas women's athletic director Donna Lopiano, who articulated women's concerns about the reduction in training table meals. "It's a climate of stifling debate. It's as if, if you don't vote with the majority, you're doing something wrong. I wouldn't really mind if the presidents were really educated about athletics."

But the presidents clearly have learned how to play the NCAA's legislative game and its politics. Burned previously by their inability to build consensus, they did that well before they came here with the help of conference commissioners.

"They have done their homework," said Harris, who traces the presidents' current resolve back to a convention in the early 1980s. "What they've learned is reflected by what happened today."

Because of the delayed effective dates for the coaching cuts, the members will be able to make changes at next year's convention. Tennessee Athletic Director Doug Dickey, who was involved with several efforts to make exceptions to the cuts, predicted that would happen.

"This won't stand up," he said. "Next year there will be adjustments."

Harris disagreed. Looking at his tallies of landslide votes, he remarked, "That's a mandate, I'd say."