Interesting take on this - this isn't just the so-called elite colleges though - it is all different types of colleges (not the "bribing" part of it). Often times colleges select students that are below their typical average academically or provide "talent" scholarships to entice a certain type of student.
And it isn't just athletics (but often is) For example - a college may be low on talented flutist for their marching band - so they may take a talented flutist for their school whose grades are below the average student in their school. It can be almost anything.
My daughter was told my her guidance counselor that one of the schools she applied to was a stretch school for her academically. It was a division III school so they cannot give out athletic scholarships. She had contacted the softball coach previously about her interest in the school - she applied and not only got accepted but got a big scholarship (academic and "talent"). When the deadline was approaching to decide which school to attend - they sent an email saying they were giving her an additional $1k.
Now she was a solid student, but this was a small private school just one or two tiers below ivy league and as much as I love her - she isn't rewarding of that high of a scholarship to that school. The softball team was mediocre so it is highly likely they were throwing money at her to come play.
So schools will entice students with lower than their average academic profile if a student has another talent, skill or shown some other valuable asset. It is not all academics school search.