The NCAA says the penalty could have been tougher. The University of Florida believes it could have been fairer.

The Gators were placed on two years probation Thursday for rules violations in football and basketball, and university officials don't think the punishment fits the crime.This year's football team won't be allowed to participate in a bowl game because of infractions that occurred in the 1980s under former coach Galen Hall.

And the basketball program will lose three scholarships over a two-year period and must return at least $287,000 it earned from its appearance in the 1988 NCAA tournament because of violations that drove former coach Norm Sloan from his job.

"We are not entirely comfortable with a set of penalties that appear to us to . . . penalize the innocent for the sins of a prior generation," school president John Lombardi said.

"This is particularly difficult when you recognize that these (football) players and these coaches are now in the middle of their season, and these penalties at this time in their season appear to us to be a particularly difficult blow to accept."

Florida felt its cooperation during a lengthy investigation should be rewarded with a lenient sentence. And, according to the NCAA's letter of finding, it did.

The NCAA chose to impose less than the minimum proscribed penalties in a case involving major violations because, among other things, it forced Hall and Sloan to resign last October.

The bowl ban for this season was the only punishment of the football program, and there was no ban on television appearances for either sport.

The basketball program's scholarships will be restricted during the 1991-92 (13 total, two below the NCAA limit of 15) and 1992-93 seasons (14 total). Florida must repay revenue from the 1988 NCAA tournament because Vernon Maxwell, the school's all-time leading scorer, played for the Gators after receiving money from an agent.

First-year football coach Steve Spurrier said the bowl ban was a more severe penalty than Florida deserved.

"This has been a clean-run program in the last four or five years," Spurrier said. "There's been no cash payments, no buying tickets of players, no falsifying of transcripts."

In 1984, the Gators were placed on two years probation for widespread NCAA violations occurring while Charley Pell was coach. Spurrier thinks the program is still paying for those mistakes.

"The Infractions Committee felt that they had to do something because of the cheating in 1983 and 1984," said Spurrier, who has coached the 19th-ranked Gators to a 2-0 start this season.

"But in America if you pay your sentence for one crime, then I don't believe you're supposed to pay it again six years later," he added.

"It's hard for me to look our players in the eyes and say that a coach paid a child-support payment four years ago and the NCAA is saying that you can't play for the conference championship or go to a major bowl this year."

The decision to prohibit the football team from going to a bowl game essentially knocks the Gators out of the Southeastern Conference title picture. SEC rules bar members that are ineligible for postseason play to win the crown.

"You could sense the anger in the team after coach Spurrier told us," senior offensive tackle Glenn Neely said. "To penalize innocent players is just shooting down our expectations as a team."

As part of the ruling, the NCAA cited Hall and Sloan for unethical conduct. Both resigned under pressure last October, and if either takes a new coaching job in the next five years, his hiring must be approved by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Hall is now an unpaid graduate assistant at Penn State, while Sloan is coaching a pro team in Greece.

Chuck Smrt, director of enforcement for the NCAA, said the case was unique because the school took significant corrective steps after the investigation was disclosed. For that reason, Smrt said, the five-member Committee on Infractions did not impose the minimum proscribed penalties.

The minimum penalties could have also included restrictions on postseason basketball, recruiting in both sports and television appearances.

Florida even faced the remote possibility of having its football and basketball programs shut down by the so-called "death penalty" after admitting seven violations ranging from Hall providing improper salary supplements to two assistant coaches to Sloan arranging an airline ticket for Maxwell to attend a summer basketball camp.

The school has 15 days to appeal the sanctions or ask that the ban against the football team be delayed. Neither Lombardi nor athletic director Bill Arnsparger would say whether the school will appeal.

Spurrier said there has only been one strong allegation against the football program in the past six years - concerning Hall's role in a $360 child-support payment. For that reason, Spurrier said, the school should challenge the NCAA's bowl ban.

"I strongly recommend we do whatever we can to allow this team to play," he said. "For a former coach allegedly making a child-support payment four years ago - that's the reason this team can't play for all the marbles any more? We got a problem with that."

In 1984, the Florida football program received two years' probation, lost scholarships and was banned from appearing in postseason games and on live television.

The NCAA has imposed sanctions on three other programs this year. Maryland's basketball team won't be allowed to participate in postseason play for two years and is forbidden to appear on live television for one year. Nevada-Las Vegas won't be allowed postseason basketball play in March, and Clemson's football program is on probation for a year.