LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) _ Virginia Military Institute alumni pleaded with the school's governing board Friday to make the college private rather than sacrifice its 157-year-old men-only tradition to ``political correctness.''

``It can be done,'' John Robins, Class of 1969, said in a rising voice as he pounded the lectern during a public hearing. ``The Keydets will rally and never say die. That's the spirit of VMI.''

The school's athletic teams are called Keydets.

Most of the alumni who addressed the VMI Board of Visitors urged the school to defy a June 26 Supreme Court ruling that the state-supported college must admit women.

Two alumni, who acknowledged that they hold a minority opinion, said VMI should accept the ruling and embrace coeducation.

``We fought the good fight,'' said Harold Mercer, a 1969 graduate. ``I don't like the decision. But I think we should go forward with coeducation. To do otherwise sends the message to cadets that we are going to go to any length to remain as we are, regardless of what the law of the land tells us.''

The Citadel, which had been the nation's only other all-male public military college, admitted women this fall to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.

But VMI, a wealthier school with the largest per-student endowment of all public colleges, is balking. The U.S. Justice Department says VMI has been refusing to send applications to women and has asked a federal court to force it to do so.

The VMI board listened to public comment after three days of private debate. It is expected to announce its decision Saturday.

VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting said the 17-member board, 13 of whom are alumni, remained sharply divided Friday.

``This is a hard issue to get a consensus,'' Bunting said.

VMI board President William Berry said the alumni he's heard from ``are about 50-50, with maybe a slight majority favoring privatization.''

Robins was among about a dozen alumni who waited three hours for their turn to speak out against coeducation, arguing it would destroy VMI's method of training young men under harsh, demanding conditions.

``To sacrifice VMI's long heritage and proud traditions upon the altar of political correctness would be most regrettable,'' Robins said.

The alumni assured the board that supporters could donate enough money to replace $10 million in annual state funding, buy the $137 million campus from the state and turn it into a private military college.

The sale would have to be authorized by the General Assembly and approved by the governor. Gov. George Allen has urged VMI to comply with the ruling, while Sen. Richard Saslaw, the Democratic floor leader, has said the Legislature would not sell VMI.