Some coaches would give just about anything for a chance to coach one game in the NCAA tournament. Bob Knight figured it was worth $10,000.

Faced with the choice between a fine or a one-game suspension that would have kept him off the Indiana bench for today's NCAA tournament opener against Oklahoma, Knight said he never thought twice about opening the checkbook."Unless I was broke," said Knight, whose estimated income exceeds a half-million dollars per year, "which I'm not."

Knight was allowed to pick his poison after the Big Ten found him guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct for haranguing and otherwise criticizing referee Ted Valentine in a game two weeks ago.

Valentine was also penalized. The Big Ten on Wednesday placed restrictions on his conference assignments next season, although Knight didn't think that would amount to much of a punishment.

"It simply means that he'll officiate games in other conferences instead," he said.

Though not satisfied, Knight was at his colorful best discussing the incident after his team's light workout at the MCI Center. Asked if anything he did was wrong, he launched into classic Knight mode, giving a cryptic answer that dealt with degrees of guilt.

"Probably the worst crime that we have today is premeditated murder, but then that goes all the way down the scale to self-defense," Knight said. "So it isn't a determination that if a person kills another person, he goes to the electric chair. There are a lot of different degrees to what happens with something like that. I really don't think that degrees were applied in this situation."

This is the third time in Knight's 27 years at Indiana he has drawn a fine of at least $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct. This time, given a choice of the money or the game, even Knight's players were certain what the decision would be.

"There was no doubt that coach wasn't going to be there for us," sophomore A.J. Guyton said. "I don't think he was going to take a suspension for any one game. That's the type of person he is. He's not going to let us down."

Valentine called three technicals against Knight and ejected the coach during the Feb. 24 game against Illinois. Knight called Valentine's officiating the "greatest travesty" he has seen in his 33 years as a college coach.

The Big Ten said the first and third technicals assessed against Knight by Valentine were proper. But the second technical was "clearly erroneous . . . because Knight went onto the floor to attend an injured player." As a result, Valentine will not be allowed to work games involving Big Ten teams during the nonconference part of the 1998-99 season.