Boston — On the locker-room bulletin board are well-worn reminders such as: ''When the going gets tough, the tough get going;'' and ''Don't yak it up if you can't back it up.'' But one poster dominates the room:
''WIN OR DIE!''
One football player responds: ''Personally, I think that's one of the most inspirational signs the coach has ever put up.''
This scene, pictured recently in a national newspaper cartoon, satirizes the stereotyped locker room of champions. But ''do or die'' antics do not make champions in the world beyond sports, says Harry O. Edwards of the University of California at Berkeley.
''The classroom, not the sports arena, is where the athlete can best develop skills to face life after stardom,'' says Dr. Edwards, a former athlete who is now one of a new breed of academic: a sports sociologist.
He proposes another means of creating ''winners'' in college sports.
''Every college should provide a five-year scholarship program for varsity athletes,'' says the man who anchored a campaign calling for black athletes to boycott the 1964 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
The 290-pound, 6-foot, 7-inch giant earned his degree at San Jose State University in California, where he won varsity letters in basketball and track. Now Dr. Edwards does the ''usual thing'' of tenured professors, teaching and lecturing across the country.
Edwards touts the cause of the student athlete, particularly blacks, in books , articles, and speeches, at conferences and meetings.
''An athlete is responsible for meeting classroom requirements demanded of other students,'' he says. ''He is responsible for his own success beyond the athletic arena.''
But the undergraduate school cannot avoid its own commitment to teach, he insists. ''This commitment includes athletes as students,'' he says.
As he speaks out, his influence on college sports grows. More professors are becoming involved in sports sociology, and more campuses are becoming sensitive to the needs of their athletes.
Northeastern University in Boston - where Edwards appears often - has taken the academic route, opening a new Center for Sport and Social Issues.
Northeastern's new center offers a minor in sports studies - including coursework in sports history, racial and women's issues in sports, the Olympics, and journalism. In addition, the center sponsors research and public forums on sports issues. And the center is helping to promote a growing new organization, the North American Sports Sociology Conference.
The Northeastern center sponsors could become the ''conscience of the sports world'' by monitoring sports across the country, says Alan M. Klein, an anthropologist and sports sociologist at Northeastern and a member of the center's advisory board.
For example, ''the plight of minority athletes is one of the more insidious forms of racism, because black stars look so good to the public,'' he says. ''The center will seek more funding to be able to tackle key issues in sports - the rights and education of an athlete, for example.''
The education of athletes has taken on new importance at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., branded as the school that ''exploited'' basketball player Kevin Ross. Mr. Ross, a reserve center for Creighton, left the school in 1982 after his athletic eligibility expired. He now lectures around the country describing his four years at the highly rated school, which left him 60 credits (about half his coursework) short of a degree in physical education and reading at a second-grade level. Ross has decided to return to another college next fall to seek his degree.
Creighton, meanwhile, has initiated a number of academic reforms, including a post-eligibility scholarship program for athletes.
''We have instituted a program that provides scholarships to athletes who have given their all to sports but didn't graduate,'' says Robert J. Gerraughty, Creighton's vice-president for administration. ''They may apply for it the year after they complete their athletic eligibility.''
Dean Gerraughty adds that coaches will no longer serve as academic advisers to student athletes. ''Regular faculty members will work with these students, plan their programs, and monitor their progress.'' And he lists these points:
* Each athlete will have supervised study hall two hours a day.
* A top administrator will meet with coaches and the athletic director at least once a semester to review progress of student athletes - more than once for those with academic difficulties.
* Student athletes needing added help may be referred to a special services program - with an 85 percent success record.