Last week I wrote about the last ditch pleas through emails that colleges were making to our daughter, Jennifer, to encourage her to apply their particular school. The subject lines of the emails sounded pretty desperate on the part of the colleges – there were statements like “Application deadline extended just for you!” I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a subject line certain to get the attention of a 17 year-old; “Apply for FREE! And receive a yearlong supply of Proactiv!

So I was feeling pretty special – colleges were reaching out to Jennifer to recruit her to their school. Sure, her SAT scores, GPA and activities aren’t so remarkable that the admissions officer at an Ivy League is going to be paying us a personal visit but still, she is obviously a good enough student that she is in demand by a bunch of colleges.

Then I came across an article in last week’s Wall Street Journal which made me realize how naïve I am about what’s really important to many colleges. What I learned is that a typical, above-average student like my daughter really isn’t all that special to them. She represents tens of thousands of dollars in tuition but a high school football player who can help a school win a bowl game – those are the kids who represent hundreds of thousands of dollars to the college or university and who are really worth wooing.

As I found out in the article, because it is so important for schools to recruit star athletes, colleges don’t just send out emails to recruit top high school football players, coaches send hand-written letters…and not just one or two, but often hundreds of them to high school seniors.

The article cited the example of Matt, a high school senior who is a 340 pound tackle in Kentucky. Matt said he gets on average, 50 letters a day from colleges. In November, he received 270 letters from Notre Dame but ended up signing with Kentucky who had also bombarded him with letters. The Kentucky coach said, “It shows them the staff will do whatever we have to do [to recruit them]. We’re willing to go overboard.”

And I thought college was about academics.

Would I have felt less sick reading that colleges send hundreds of letters to National Merit Finalists to recruit them? Maybe.

But I guess colleges are just like any other business: it makes sense for them to invest their energies where they will get the biggest return – and that means going after the student who has the best stats on the football field – not on the SAT.