First thing every morning, a college athlete should put in a phone call to NCAA headquarters. He should ask if it is against NCAA rules to breathe on even-numbered days in April. You nver know, folks. The NCAA works even as we sleep.

Already it is against NCAA rules for a college athlete to be an ordinary person. Unlike real people, college athletes can not be paid for work that produces millions of dollars. They can't even go to dinner with anyone so reprehensible as to pick up the check.

What we have this week is a new one. Premed students can get a loan if they convince a bank they can repay it once thaty start soaking patients. Predentistry students sell banks on the idea the world is full of cavities waiting to be filled. They can get loans, too. Everybody can get a loan.

Everybody, that is, except college athletes. They cannot buy insurance if they pay the premium with a loan given to them on the basis of their atheltic ability.

Tony Kornheiser did good work in the Sunday Post. He turned out a long, detailed story of how several college basketball players bought disability insurance as protection against an injury that would prevent them from cashing in on the big money available in the pros. By having such insurance, the players could stay in college another year or two without worrying that an injury would rob them of all that money.

It makes glorious god sense. Here is Joe Barry Carroll, for instance, a 7-foot-1 center from Purdue who may or may not have had such insurance (the evidence says yes, but all concerned won't comment). By leaving Purdue a year ago, he might have gained a $2 million deal. For various reasons, he chose to stay in school -- possibly because he could have his cake and eat it, too, with the sweet icing being an insurance policy for $2 million issued by Lloyd's of London.

Even as a high school senior, Darrell Griffith heard the siren call of the pros. A film-flam agent from California said he had a $3 million package wrapped up for Griffith. The kid ignored the shyster. Still the pro talk went on through Griffith's four years at Louisville, including this season in which he made all-America and led Louisville to the national championship. Kornieser quotes an insurance man saying Griffith insured himself against the chance injury would hurt his market value.

The kid was being smart again.

Good for Griffith. That's what college is for, right? Gets us wise in the ways of the world. Teaches us how to deal with flim-flam men and how to buy insurance for the wife and the roof and, for sure, the $1 million we're going to get from the pros.

But the NCAA says Griffith and Carroll may have been bad boys. If the NCAA can prove that, Louisville and Purdue may be in trouble. Louisville may have to forfeit the national championship and Purdue would be kicked out of third place. Each school would have to return the $320,000 it earned by reaching the NCAA Tournament finals.

While a college athlete can buy insurance with his own money or with his parents' money, the NCAA says it is a violation of rules to buy the insurance with a loan granted to them on the basis of their athletic reputation.

Joe Barry Carroll could walk up to a Lafayette banker and say, "Hi, I'm Joe Barry, all-America, lend me $20,000 so I can buy a $1 million insurance policy and I'll pay you back when the proshire me." He'd probably get the $20,000, because it would be a good business deal for the banker.

But it would bge a violation of NCAA rules.

Which is plain ridiculous.

It is ridiculous for the NCAA rulesmakers to legislate against college athletes.

It is ridiculous on several levels. It is hypocritical, to begin with, for universities to draw up rules -- the NCAA is an association of universities -- that allow the schools to get rich by exploiting the Joe Barry Carrolls and Darrell Griffiths. Of the $320,000, how much do you figure Carroll is responsible for? All of it. Without Carroll, Purdue is mediocre at best. And of the $320,000, what is Carroll's cut.

Tuition, room and board. Peanuts.

In its salad days before Title 9, the NCAA also gave the athletes $15 a month for incidentals. Now the $15 goes to buy women's sweat socks, or something, and the guys who make big money for the schools can't even get a legitimate business loan without the NCAA cops forming a posse.

A legitmate business loan. That's what this insurance policy is. It is ridiculous that Purdue might have to suffer the financial and ethical embarrassment of an NCAA ruling against Carroll simply because he had the good sense to plan ahead. The insurance man who may have sold Carroll his policy -- the agent won't talk about Carroll at all -- says he sells such insurance to premed students every day.

"Medical students get a $100,000 life and $1,000-a-month disability, and they get a loan from the bank to pay it because they tell the bank they'll pay it off in four years when they get out," said Tom King of Sequoia Associates, Knoxville, Tenn.

"Our office sells 400 policies like that a year. It's the same thing an athlete would be doing."

As a premed student borrows against his future earnings, so might the athlete. King says the athlete must have been offered a pro contract before he can be insured. The offer determines the player's value. If Carroll, say, had a $2 million offer a year ago and insured at that amount, he could suffer a knee injury in his last college season that would reduce his pro contract to $500,000 -- and the insurance would make up the $1.5 million difference.

That way, everyone gets the best of it. The school has Carroll for another season, Carroll is guaranteed his $2 million, and, most likely, the pro team that signs Carroll picks up $1.5 million from its insurance policy covering the possibility of such an injury.

But does the NCAA like all this? Nooooo. One presumes the rule against loans was designed to prevent boosters from paying players with "loans" that never came due. Nice idea. But when such a rule prevents a college athlete from exercising the same right a premed student has, the rule is ridiculous.

That is why the NCAA won't touch this one. On this one the NCAA can't win. And it could lose big. To deny an athlete the right to a business loan simply because he is an athlete is to discriminate against him. An army of eager lawyers would line up to represent Louisville and Purdue in such a case. And if this foolish rule against loans is found to be constitutional, who knows which of the thousands of NCAA rules could stand the test of law?

The NCAA would rather not open that box.

Anyway, how would the NCAA ever prove that a banker in Lafayette gave a loan to Carroll simply because he is a great basketball player? The banker certainly doesn't have to tell anyone his reasons for giving a loan. Hey, maybe the baker gives $20,000 to every 7-footer who asks.