If you look at the lawsuit that forced Harvard to pubnlicize their admission process, you see that athletics is one of 6 key categories for evaluation. If you can be near the top at 2 of the categories, you're in decent shape. So anyone being recruited as a top/starter athlete is already 50% of the way there. No, an all-state QB with a 3.0 and 1300 SAT won't get in. But if you're at the 25th percentile, you have about the same chance as a non-athlete at 505h percentile in 2 other areas.

And iirc, the "top" of the categories was something like 100-200 of the 40,000 applications, and earning a 2 (of 6 levels) was still top 10% of all applicants.

With a $37B endowment, I'd be surprised if they risked their reputation for a few million dollars (0.1% of their endowment).

In fact, I suspect they'd proudly state they rejected the application, as they like to subtly mention how many 800/1600/2400 applicants they reject.