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Picture a future where the United States fields no men's gymnastics team at the Olympics.

That's the nightmare facing gymnasts, coaches and gymnastics officials, thanks to a NCAA rule that could take away the college championship for the sport as soon as 1996."This would have a negative impact on the future in men's gymnastics when no college programs exist for them to advance their skills for international competition," said Richard Aronson, executive director of the National Association of College Gymnastics Coaches.

A recent NCAA rule mandates that a sport have at least 40 operating programs to qualify for a national championship. Men's gymnastics teams, which stood at 138 in 1976, currently numbers 31 varsity squads.

The coaches' association is scrambling for support from USA Gymnastics, Congress, Olympic medalists and other gymnasts and university presidents.

The group is pushing legislation for a vote at the NCAA convention in January that would put a two-year moratorium on that rule, giving time for a study of the number 40.

"We're the first sport to be under 40 in number," said Roy Johnson, gymnastics coach at Massachusetts and president of the NACGC. "Volleyball and water polo are close, and we've met with eight or nine other (non-revenue sports)."

Their campaign includes letters and a new black T-shirt asking for support of the legislation numbered ""

Gymnast Bill Roth of Temple and Steve Nunno, coach of two-time world champion Shannon Miller, each wore the shirt at the national championships that ended Saturday.

"I was asked to wear it," Roth said. "And I made the decision to wear it, but I'm annoyed with the NCAA. It gave me the opportunity to strive as a gymnast and helped my education."

But he thinks the rule would starve men's gymnastics to death by choking off the source of boys wanting to go into the sport with fewer college scholarships becoming available.

"Everyone should have the opportunity for college education. They should not get short-changed," said Roth, a member of the U.S. national team.

Scott Keswick, the current national champion, has seen his team along with swimming dropped from varsity to club level status at UCLA. A college graduate, his funding continues through USA Gymnastics and other sources.

"For years and years, (the championship's) been the base of our national team, and (college) is the hope and inspiration of kids," Keswick said. "If there's no scholarships, you're taking away a dream."

But no new athletes will be coming into UCLA, a school renowned for its list of Olympic athletes. Keswick said the only hope will be if non-students are allowed to compete for the team.

Roth figures the final problem is money.

"We're not making millions of dollars. If we were, it would be different," he said.