There is a place this spring where the sideshow stops, where the shameless pandering ends. There is no tucking in of jerseys, no skating the boundary of NCAA rules.

There is a place of dignity and achievement that you may have forgotten in this Summer of the Satellite.


Sure, you know it advertises itself as the best combination of academics and athletics anywhere. And it is right. Sometime soon, Stanford will clinch its 22nd consecutive Director's Cup, an honor given to the top athletic department in the country.

It is a reflection of a world-class university where a record 38,828 applied for the Class of 2017. Only 2,210 -- 5.6 percent -- were admitted.

The strictures attached to the football program shouldn't matter, but they do now more than ever. Jim Harbaugh and the rest of college football have seen to it.

This a fun time at Michigan where Harbaugh is turning it around quickly and glibly. But this continues to be a golden age at Stanford. The program of John Elway, Bill Walsh and Andrew Luck has arguably never been better.

If Harbaugh wasn't so busy hustlin', the obvious irony would be worthy one of his snarky tweets: Harbaugh deserves credit for creating the modern Stanford when he arrived in 2007.

But David Shaw gets credit for elevating it to another, better, higher level. If Harbaugh turned around Stanford football, his old offensive coordinator is becoming the face of it.

The post-Stanford Harbaugh wants everyone to like him, spitting (figuratively) at everyone who doesn't. The everlasting Stanford continues to graduate captains of teams who become captains of industry.

Look what you built at Stanford, Jim. Now look at how much it has improved.

For whatever reason, Harbaugh now loudly rages against anything that constrains him. Meanwhile, Shaw quietly works The Farm in his own noble way.

While Harbaugh stages his one-day stands from coast-to-coast, Shaw recently pointed out that, as of June, there are 40 players -- maybe 50 -- in the entire country he can legitimately recruit for his 2017 class.

Academic "attrition" at this time of year cuts into an initial pool of about 150-200 nationwide prospects. June is when second-semester grades come out for juniors. Mike Eubanks, Stanford's director of recruiting and football relations, calls this month the "tipping point" of whether recruits can legitimately hope to get in Stanford.

"I'm not kidding," Shaw told CBS Sports recently. "If we're recruiting more than 50 guys, we're kidding ourselves."

To put that in perspective, there are schools still pursuing hundreds of kids -- perhaps four to five guys at each position -- with eight months left until National Signing Day in February 2017.

Stanford continues to make sure there is the right combination of ACT, SAT, GPA and five essays that each applicant must write.

"I always tell everybody that's the hardest offer to get," said Ryan Bartow, 247Sports national recruiting insider.

Harbaugh's Michigan has its own academic assets. But Stanford was once explained to me this way: If the program desperately needs a running back to fill out its class and that running back doesn't measure up academically, the scholarship might go to a backup safety who does.

"Academically, there will be guys that get two Cs [this time of year] and it's over," Shaw said. "There are guys taking the [college entrance] test right now. If they don't score high enough, it's over."

Shaw, 54-15 in five seasons, says this with an air of accomplishment and certainty ... and acceptance. This is the way Stanford operates. This month, prospects are either on track or they aren't. A discerning admissions office will scrutinize them just like all the 38,000 applicants -- equally.

Bartow breathlessly tells prospects with a 26 ACT they hold a "lottery ticket." Stanford is at least a possibility. In that sense, it's a 40-year life decision, not just a four-year degree.

"I don't think I'd feel the same way somewhere else," said Eubanks.

Stanford's director of recruiting arrived the same year as Harbaugh. He's now beginning his 10th season at Stanford. Considering the admission requirements, there may not be a more challenged recruiting coordinator in the country.

"The people that get to the end at Stanford," he said, "are wired a different way."

Different is to say, better. Stanford recruits to transcripts as much as talent.

"That's the fork in the road," Eubanks continued. "We have to recruit hard enough and effectively enough that the value of Stanford is worth doing.

"The grades that come out at the end of the spring semester are definitely a big separator. The truth is a lot of these young kids are like, 'Camps, camps, combines, showcases, traveling around.' It's not easy to balance school and get a lot of As."

In this golden age of Stanford football, the program has itself raged against college football's win-at-all-costs machine. Since 2012, Shaw has won three Pac-12 titles and two out of three Rose Bowls. The Cardinal made a run at the College Football Playoff last season.

There is no end in sight. Three times since 2009, Stanford has produced a Heisman runner-up. Christian McCaffrey might be going into the season as the best player in the country.

What's more impressive: What Harbaugh started or what Stanford has become without him?

"When we go to battle on Saturdays, I actually think they're wired to beat the Jesses and Joes across from us," Eubanks said.

"There's no negotiating with Stanford admissions," he added. "When we're recruiting a young man who has 40 or 50 offers ... we stand alone in asking him to sign up for retakes of the SAT or ACT after junior year."

If it all sounds a bit elitist, perhaps it should. Shaw's comments were miscast earlier this spring when he suggested satellite camps aren't worth it, "when there might be one person in the entire state that's eligible to get into Stanford."

"I was trying to be nice. It doesn't make economical sense for us," Shaw told CBS Sports last month. "It could be in Georgia, it could be in Alabama, it could be in New Mexico. If there are 200 kids in camp, how many kids have the ability and grades to come to Stanford? One, maybe."

If you're offended, go find your own talk show to vent. You're wrong.

A reminder: Shaw can sign only a maximum of 25. According to 247Sports, the Cardinal have only five commitments for that 2017 class. That means, out of that pool of 40-50, Shaw must hit on 30-40 percent of them.

"It's tough," Shaw said, "but it's very focused."

Which is what continually makes Stanford great at this sort of thing.

"There's no question that on a national platform," Eubanks said, "it should send a message out there to anybody who is watching there doesn't have to be a trade-off. There doesn't have to be a sacrifice."

At least until the satellite circus comes to town.