Too many college football and basketball players are setting themselves up for failure later in life.

That's the sad but unmistakably clear message from a $1.75 million study of 4,083 students at 42 major colleges recently conducted for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.The study found that: College football and basketball players spend more time on sports than on studying and attending classes . . . their grades are poorer than those of other students . . . and a fourth of the football and basketball players expect to enter the pro ranks although only a small fraction ever do so.

Why single out college football and basketball players for the attention and criticism implied in the study? Because students involved in lesser sports spend more time on studies than on sports or other extracurricular activities. So do students who participate in such activities as bands, school newspapers, or student government.

Actually, any criticism is in order not so much for college football and basketball players as it is for college administrations. It's administrations that let priorities get twisted when some students are allowed to neglect the development of the lifetime learning skills that are increasingly essential in an increasingly complex society.

Likewise, it's college administrations that could correct this situation through such reforms as the elimination of spring practice and shorter college football and basketball seasons.

In any event, the NCAA has just received a study whose findings and conclusions, though hardly surprising, should generate support for less play and more study. A document that cost $1.75 million should not be allowed to merely gather dust on campus shelves.