PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The University of Pennsylvania's top two history professors have accused the school's athletic department of using a ``sleazy'' maneuver to preserve a football player's eligibility.

Mitch Marrow, an all-Ivy League defensive tackle last year, qualified as a full-time student this season only because an independent study course was arranged for him the day before the final game, the professors charge.

Only full-time students can participate in NCAA sports. Had Marrow been declared ineligible, games in which he played could have been forfeited.

Lynn Lees, chairman of Penn's history department, and Bruce Kuklick, who oversees undergraduate history, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that an associate athletic director asked a junior history professor to authorize an independent study course for Marrow last week. Lees and Kuklick said they backed the faculty member's decision to rebuff the request.

But another Penn professor, Kenneth Shropshire, agreed to approve a course for Marrow in the Wharton School. The business course was ratified by Diane Frey, director of advising for the College of Arts and Sciences.

``It doesn't sit well with me, but I think the consequences for the university could have been dire,'' Frey said.

A day later, Penn, with Marrow in the lineup, beat Cornell 33-20 to finish at 6-4.

``This is so sleazy, it wouldn't happen under normal circumstances,'' said Kuklick, the author of a popular history of Philadelphia's Shibe Park.

``It seemed quite clear what (the athletic department) were trying to do,'' Lees said. ``They were trying to get an academic cover for this kid so he can play football.''

Shropshire, Penn's representative to the NCAA, declined to discuss Marrow's case. But he said he had granted similar requests about five times in the last 11 years, and only once for an athlete.

Marrow, 22, signed up for three courses in September, a full-time load. But he dropped a course early in the semester.

NCAA spokesman Rick Perko said student athletes are supposed to be registered full-time during the entire football season, not just at the beginning and end. Perko said the NCAA would look into the matter.

Marrow did not return messages left at his campus apartment. A woman at his parent's house in Harrison, N.Y., hung up on a reporter, the Inquirer said.

Denis Elton Cochran-Fikes, Penn's associate athletic director, said he learned of Marrow's eligibility problem last week and told Marrow and Penn coaches that it had to be resolved before the Cornell game.

Frey said Cochran-Fikes asked if Marrow could be readmitted to the course he dropped, but she told him the deadline for adding a class was Sept. 19.

Cochran-Fikes said he then phoned Beth Wenger, a first-year assistant history professor. Wenger called Cochran-Fikes' request that she admit Marrow to an independent study course ``highly irregular.''

``I never heard of anyone signing up for independent study this late in a semester,'' which ends Dec. 8, Wenger said.

Cochran-Fikes warned that ``the whole Penn football season might have to be forfeited'' and the university could face long-term sanctions if she turned down the request, Wenger said.

``It's completely hokey,'' said Kuklick, who noted that students usually represent themselves when seeking independent study. Robert Rescorla, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, said he would review Frey's decision.

Cochran-Fikes declined to comment on the history professors' remarks.

Marrow, a fifth-year senior, had a spectacular junior season but played intermittently this year, missing two games because of injury and a bout of mononucleosis. He played only the first quarter against Cornell.