IT'S SPRINGTIME in the sports world. The off-season has begun. The college basketball season ended Monday night. The football season is a distant memory. Baseball is just warming up for summer. Pro basketball is still going on - and on and on and on - but things don't really get interesting until the playoffs. The NHL doesn't even come up.

What's a diehard sports fan to do?No sport has ever really taken charge of the spring season, although many have tried (remember the USFL?). Your garden variety sports fans - who are generally united during fall and winter - must go their own ways each April to find a sport that grabs them, something to tide them over.

It isn't easy, so here are a few suggestions on how they can survive the next couple of months:

FOOTBALL. Football is still an option. There are two choices: spring football practice (the University of Utah will start soon), and the WLAF, which sounds like a comedy radio station, but it's really a professional football league.

The World League of American Football is the stepchild of the National Football League, and a descendant of the USFL and WFL, RIP. There are 12 teams spread throughout the world - the London Monarchs, live from Wembley Stadium, for instance - who supposedly will get you hard-core football junkies through the off-season in decent shape. The USA cable network will broadcast games during the week; ABC will broadcast games on Sunday. Dick Vermeil and Brent Musberger will be mikeside (Question: Does Brent Musberger need to get a life or what?)

This will be football with a few new technical twists. A TV camera is imbedded in the quarterback's helmet (although by the fourth quarter it could be implanted in his forehead) and the coaches are wired for sound, which so far has proved to be a marvelous way of teaching young children the art of profanity. Mommy, what does %*[email protected] $ mean?

AUTOMOBILES. The Salt Palace will be full of fun during the next couple of months. There will be two auto shows in April. Vast showrooms will be filled with shiny cars, which become sticky and spotted from all the drooling that goes on at these things. This is nirvana for car nuts, who are just trying to get by until the tractor pull season begins next fall.

GUNS. Later this month there will be a gun show at the Salt Palace, followed a few days later by the Utah Funeral Directors Convention. This might just be a coincidence. Check your guns at the door anyway. You can buy, sell, trade or fondle guns to your heart's content. NRA club cards welcome.

FIGHTS. On May 19, the so-called Battle of the Ages will take place: Holyfield vs. Foreman. This matches a young, heavily muscled kid against a fat, middle-aged preacher. Does this sound fair? Actually, there are better fights available for you fight fans. The Golden Eagles, for instance, begin playing in the International Hockey League playoffs next week. They drop the gloves.

RUNNING. The Salt Lake Classic is coming up next month, but as spectator sports go, road races aren't much, since you can see only a small portion of any race. They would be better entertainment if they were put on a track, but then you'd have the sport of track, not road racing. Unfortunately, you'd also have field. There are no big track and field meets in the state this spring, but later this month you can catch BYU's Frank Fredericks - one of the top sprinters in the world - in action in Provo. But home meets will be nothing more than aerobic workouts for Fredericks.

CARD SHOWS. Later this month there will be a sports card "extravaganza" at the Fairgrounds, with Reggie Jackson, Jim Plunkett and Emmit Smith in attendance for autograph hounds. These things are a modern phenomenon. Full-grown adults buy, sell, trade, covet, stare at and hyperventilate over baseball/basketball/football cards. If looking at pictures of former and current athletes makes your blood run fast, this is the place for you.

GYMNASTICS. The Lady Ute gymnasts will seek their eighth national championship later this month. Missy Marlowe, a local Olympian, is the top-rated collegiate gymnast in the country. But you'll have to drive to Arizona and Alabama if you want to see Missy and her teammates this month. Guess you'll just have to read about it in the Deseret News.

CONSTRUCTION. If you're particularly hard up one afternoon, put on your hard hat and watch them build the new Jazz arena. Be there as they install an I-beam or drive a forklift. The car nuts will enjoy all the big trucks in action. Pretend it's a tractor pull.

NOSTALGIA. If you can't wait any longer and you must bring the football or basketball season back to life, pull out your videotape collection. For BYU fans, there is always the favorite standby, the 1980 Holiday Bowl, an oldie but goodie for your viewing pleasure, or last December's Heisman presentation. For Utah fans, we highly recommend the 1990 Holiday Bowl.

As you can see, there's something for every fan in the spring. You just have to know where to look.