OF THE 2,386 college football bowl games, we cheerfully single out the venerable Sugar Bowl, for the reason that it has contracted the University of Virginia's fine team of real student-athletes (star quarterback Shawn Moore is a graduate student) to meet Tennessee in New Orleans today. We wish the Cavaliers of Charlottesville the best, not just because they're closer to home but because of the perspective with which the university views its newfound success in the lucrative world of big-time intercollegiate sports.

Maybe it's because U-Va. hasn't had the time or warped interest to get used to the fame and considerable fortune of serious football. But consider what the football team has decided to do with a good share of its fat Sugar Bowl profits: the team will give $400,000 of its take to bolster academic programs that have been hit heavily by state budget cuts. About half of this gift will be used to buy books and periodicals for the university's Alderman Library, which has had to trim its purchases as part of a $50 million reduction ordered in the U-Va. 1990-92 budget. The rest of the gift will finance a new endowed professorship that will be devoted to outstanding teaching -- as distinguished from the more customary emphasis on celebrity research.

The athletic program won't starve in the process. The U-Va. gross share from the game will be in the vicinity of $3.5 million. Much of this has to be shared with the Atlantic Coast Conference and applied to expenses of the team's trip. The university's proceeds will be something more than $1 million, from which will come the contribution to academics.

At the University of Virginia, meanwhile, there is more than a little concern that the bang-for-the-bucks aspect of national competition may overwhelm those who see it as a threat to the academic reputation of Mr. Jefferson's "Academical Village." The concern is healthy, but there is good evidence this is one university that is not going to surrender to the pressures of gridiron greed. Three cheers today for the Wahoos, whose rare day in the big-football sun would be most suitably capped by a solid victory before they come back to the books.