ON TUESDAY, POPE John Paul II issued a sweeping call for Roman Catholics to "respect the Lord's day," and to go to church on Sunday.

On the same day, the NCAA said its member schools must be willing to play sporting events on Sunday.Too bad the pope and the NCAA didn't check with each other first and save us the mixed signals. You know what this means, don't you? Tennis in Sunday School.

The pope's 100-page "Day of the Lord letter," as it's called, was apparently missed by the NCAA, or ignored. Same as the appeals by BYU/LDS Church and other schools and churches. The pope urged believers not to confuse "the celebration of Sunday" with a "weekend" - which would mean rest and worship as opposed to, say, championship tennis matches and another day at the office away from the family.

The pope, with church attendance on the decline, is concerned that waning faith and the evolution of Sunday into just another day of the week has kept people out of church.

The NCAA, with athletic departments in decline, is concerned that not having events on Sunday is costing it TV money.

You can decide which side has raised the more important issue. But there is only one course of action that would accommodate both sides. BYU is not asking other schools not to compete on Sunday; it is simply requesting that if a school has a policy against playing on Sunday, there should be flexibility in the rules to accommodate those schools.

Is that too much to ask?

Probably it is, where the NCAA is concerned. The nincompoops at the NCAA haven't done anything right since they adopted a shot clock, so why would they start now? Just since April, the NCAA has . . .

. . . settled a lawsuit with Jerry Tarkanian, agreeing to pay him $2.5 million after chasing him around for a couple of decades.

. . . lost a lawsuit to 1,900 assistant coaches for unlawfully restricting their salaries, resulting in a judgment of $67 million against the NCAA.

. . . agreed to allow athletes to accept jobs - from boosters!

. . . so bungled the management of collegiate sports that there is talk of schools breaking away to form their own organization.

. . . decided to repeal the so-called BYU rule, which forbade championship competitions from being played on Sunday.

Now the NCAA is taking on BYU and Christianity (NCAA officials are not afraid of anyone, and why would they be? They've faced Tark). But this issue isn't going to go away anymore than Tarkanian did. The NCAA has found itself embroiled in something that is, inevitably, religious, and that's always trouble.

The NCAA could have bowed out of this mess gracefully this week. If 100 schools filed petitions before last Monday's deadline, the rule would have been automatically overturned until the NCAA convention votes on it in January. Ninety-nine schools filed petitions before the deadline. The 100th letter of petition, from Boise State, arrived minutes after the 5 p.m. deadline. The letter arrived so close to the 5 p.m. deadline that the NCAA called a special meeting to decide whether to accept it.

It refused.

Boise State's letter was quickly followed by the arrival of a few more petitions Monday evening and a few more the following morning. Approximately 105 schools have sent letters to the NCAA in support of BYU, and it could be more, but the NCAA isn't saying how many. It recognizes only 99 of them. It has decided to live the letter of the law, rather than honor its intent (not unlike certain people who are mentioned in that big book - oh, what's it called? - the Bible). There was even some confusion among the schools about the 5 p.m. deadline - whether it was central time or mountain time. But the NCAA won't budge.

Clearly, more than one-third of the NCAA membership supports BYU, and the support comes from a broad spectrum of schools - Michigan, Nebraska, Stanford, St. John's, St. Peters, Baylor, Cincinnati, Duke, Northwestern, Texas A&M, USC, Naval Academy, Georgia, Air Force, Wyoming, Utah, Arkansas-Fayetteville, Kansas State, Citadel, DePaul, and Clemson, among others. (Curiously, Notre Dame and Southern Methodist are not on the list.)

The issue is not dead. Because more than 30 schools appealed the Sunday play rule within 60 days after the legislation passed, it forced a vote on the rule by the entire 300-school membership at the NCAA Convention in January. It also will force the NCAA's management coun-cil to review the legislation on Aug. 11. That council can either suspend the rule or uphold it until it is brought to vote at the convention. If it goes to the convention, BYU will need the support of approximately 200 schools to overturn the rule.

Meanwhile, the NCAA has a mess on its hands. As usual.