IN NEW JERSEY, a high school senior is choosing among the scholarship offered by more than 100 colleges and universities. In Michigan, another senior has picked the University of South Carolina from among the 75 schools that offered a free education. The two seniors have at least two things in common: They play basketball and they are female.

Here is the newest trend in the annual pursuit of the high school athlete, a competition in which most of the nation's colleges and universities engage with a vengeance every spring. Because the federal government had told the schools they cannot treat men and women differently and because some women's sports are suddenly attracting paying spectators, the exceptional female athlete has become as hot a comodity in the recruiting game as the exceptional male.

That's fine as long as the recruiting game is allowed to go on. But the fact that women have now taken their place alongside men as prizes to be won in this annual competition does not make it any more attractive. Something is really wrong when the nation's colleges and universities go to such lengths to entice to their campuses high school seniors who will be there primarily to play games and attract alumni support. These institutions exist, after all - at lest in theory - to forster knowledge, not to train super-athletes.

There is a way to end the charade in which wages are called scholarships and tenure depends upon how many games are won. It is to sever the connection between big athletic programs and the colleges. Let there be, say, Maryland Athletics, Inc., which hires atheletes at the going rate and fields teams. Its players could wear the old school colors and enroll as students, if they wanted to, and qualify under normal rules. The student body and the alumni could still go and cheer and the sports pages could still report on the development of this special breed of young men and women - only it wouldn't mixed up with scholarship.