Too big to fail.”

Big shots used that phrase to sell their — make that our — big bailout for big banks.

But “too big to fail” also applies to big-time college sports programs, even in little states like ours.

So does “too big on the scoreboard to fail in the classroom.”

That phrase applied again last week when Arden Key, a prized defensive end from Lithonia, Ga., said he intended to play football for the University of South Carolina.

He offered this, er, testimonial to USC, according to Columbia’s WIS-TV:

“The academic part, they make it easy. In order to do bad at South Carolina, you’ve got to try to fail.”

Key’s entering the 11th grade in August. So with his “National Signing Day” not coming until February 2015, he has plenty of time to change his “commitment.”

Yet USC is firmly committed to getting the best players it can into school — and keeping them there.

Virtually every other college competing for ever-higher sports-money stakes has made that commitment, too, with expansive — and expensive — academic “support systems” for athletes.

The agony of defeats

Though many Clemson fans hee-haw over Key’s “you’ve got to try to fail” candor, remember, they’re not laughing about the Tigers’ four-year football skid against USC.

Hey, wearers of the orange also want to minimize the losses of good players — and thus games — to bad grades.

And scholarship athletes aren’t the only college students drawing considerable grade-point-average slack these days. Way back when Clemson still played all of its home football games in the daytime, colleges weren’t necessarily given high marks for high graduation rates.

Now they are. Some savvy — and lazy — students learn to take advantage of that. And growing pressure to pass substandard students begins at lower educational levels. Just ask public-school teachers.

But enough about the costly (in both sports loot and academic credibility) games colleges play to win the big ones.

If you want so see some dramatic athletic action, you need not wait until these prime-time football openers: Aug. 29—UNC at USC; Aug. 31—Georgia at Clemson.

That’s because “Monday Night Raw,” World Wrestling Entertainment’s weekly blockbuster on the USA Network, will air live from the North Charleston Coliseum on Monday night.

No holds barred

You don’t have to worry about any of those grapplers flunking out of school.

You, should, however, be wary of their ever-shifting allegiances. In rasslin’, as in politics and life itself, good guys often turn bad, and vice versa. For instance, Alberto del Rio used to be a bad guy. Then he became a good guy.

Now? Judge for yourself:

Del Rio displayed haughty disdain five nights ago on “Raw,” sneering at the “U-S-A! U-S-A!”-chanting crowd in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Mexican braggart chastised WWE fans for cheering for “a pig and coward” — Jack Swagger — instead of him.

Del Rio added: “I guess that’s what America is all about — pigs and cowards.”

OK, that seals del Rio’s “heel turn” back to villain status.

Young Arden Key can still turn away from USC, too.

As for higher education’s lowest-common-denominator pursuit of sports success, it reflects this maxim from the squared circle’s original “Nature Boy,” Buddy Rogers:

“They don’t ask you how you won. They ask you if you won.”

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.