A FRIEND WHO FREQUENTS flea markets recently delivered a yellowing treasure -- an issue of Look magazine dated Nov. 22, 1938. Claudette Colbert doing the can-can was the cover girl, but the headline in the lower right corner was even more of an eye-catcher.

"EXPOSED," it read. "College Football is a Racket." And on the inside, eight full pages told you why.

"Back in the days when the season ended on Thanksgiving, there was a college sport called football," the article began. "But only old alumni remember it as a sport, for today it has become big business, hypocritical as Snow White's stepmother -- a $50-million racket that wears out turnstiles, amateur rules and educational standards."

Two pages later, there was a picture of Sammy Baugh, with a caption that said, "The former Texas Christian All-American had a campus job . . . waiting on the training table. The job paid him all his expenses except about $90 a year."

A few pages later, the piece described the "note racket . . . often employed to cover up subsidization. Promising players signed notes for funds supplied by rich alumni, then are told to forget the notes."

Or this, on page 12: "Southern California and a number of other schools give their players tickets to sell. A freshman gets one ticket free for every home game, a sophomore two, a junior three, a senior four and the captain five. Besides these, the players may buy six at regular rates and try to resell them for what they will bring."

Finally, the editors of Look offered a simple solution. "Many followers of the game," they wrote, "believe the ultimate plan will be an honest pay- for-play arrangement, with decent wages for athletes as well as coaches."

In the years since, a number of schools have tried that pay-for-play approach, all of them using under- the-table funds to get the best scholar-athletes money could buy to their respective institutions of higher learning. And many have been caught.

The latest, of course, was Clemson University, just last month placed on two-year probation for more than 150 violations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules over a four-year period.

Clemson can appear in no bowl games for two years, nor can it appear on television, two extremely costly sanctions. And yet, the school clearly comes out ahead.

Last year, Clemson won the national football championship and played in a major bowl game. Its home games are sellouts, and revenues from gate receipts and alumni contributions surely will help ease the sting of bowl and television money lost over the next two seasons.

Two days after the NCAA penalties were announced, the football team headed out to play an all-expenses-paid football game in Japan. Who says cheating doesn't pay?

The penalties clearly were nothing less than a wrist slap. If the NCAA was that serious about cleaning up its major sports, far more drastic action should have been taken against Clemson and other cheaters.

The NCAA could insist, as it did in the case of Southwestern Louisiana's basketball program in the early 1970s, that Clemson not be allowed to field a football team for years until they cleaned up their program.

The NCAA could insist that the school fire the athletic director, Bill McLellan, and coach, Danny Ford, under whom many of the violations occurred. And it could have insisted on firing the previous coach, Charley Pell, whose tenure at Clemson also was cited for violations by the NCAA. Pell had the good sense to skip town and head for the University of Florida. Now there are reports that the NCAA is looking into his program as well. Sorry, Charley.

Of course, none of this will happen very soon. For years, educators have been decrying professionalism on campus, though very few have taken the bold step of the University of San Francisco, which dropped its basketball program last year to avoid further athletic scandal.

In 1905, for example, the president of Stanford University said, "Let the football team become frankly professional. Cast off all deception. Get the best professional coach. Pay him well and let him have the best men the town and alumni will pay for.

"Let the teams struggle in perfectly honest warfare, known for what it is and with no masquerade of amateurism or academic ideals. The evil in current football rests not in the hired men, but in academic lying and in the falsification of our own standards as associations of scholars and men of honor."

Why not play for pay?

Why should Herschel Walker play football now for room, board and tuition? Without him, the University of Georgia would be an average football team. With him, the Dawgs have won one national championship and are on the verge of another if they can defeat Penn State in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.

They have appeared in three straight major bowl games, good for about $5 million in revenue, and their sellouts and television revenue have added millions more, not to mention all the cash grateful alumni are pouring into the university coffers.

So why not pay Herschel and others like him exactly what they're worth. Give 'em salaries. Let 'em pay taxes. And if they'd like to go to class as well, let 'em pay tuition, too. They'll be able to afford it.