THE PACIFIC-10 Conference has set a new mark for integrity in college sports by ruling five of its member schools ineligible for prestigious and potentially lucrative championship games. Schools in other collegiate leagues have committed worse sins with far less punishment. Stories of illegal recruiting procedures and falsified transcripts are not uncommon in college football and basketball; they are reported right after the long list of game results on the evening news during the fall season. What is uncommon is the acknowledgment that those violations should be punished. But while the PAC-10's self-imposed sanctions deserve wide applause, they are also a reminder that even a short man can look tall in the company of pygmies.

The PAC-10 schools can still play this season, they can keep television revenues from all past games won with ineligible athletes and they can continue to recruit athletes. In the words of the chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles, Charles Young the penalties "will have minimal impact on our program." Mr. Young is right. College football in the PAC-10 has not been "jolted," as some people would have you believe. The penalties are a minimum.

The concept of the student-athlete in the major college sports is an ongoing national hoax, a real scandal that everyone knows about. The boys on the football field or the basketball court are hired guns, not amateur athletes. They play to win for the money that comes to a winning college from alumni funds and television contracts. Faked transcripts, filled with classes that were never taken, may make headlines when they are uncovered, but what about the more common practice of simplified courses for athletes who don't have time for school? What about the do-nothing jobs in which they earn huge amounts of money? And what about the black basketball players who are sent back to the city without an education when their four years of playing eligibility end?

The PAC-10 has taken a first step toward reining in its athletic program and reminding its coaches and athletes that they are not a wholly professional league. It has let its sports programs know that a school's good name and educational program are more important than a big win over State U. The PAC-10 is to be congratulated for that.