Alabama RB Derrick Henry’s Car and Competitive Advantages

The backlash ensuing Derrick Henry's car is rooted in the same search for competitive advantages that inspires bag men.
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Nothing brings sparks phony indignation quite like a college athlete posing with something valuable, and the latest instance is Alabama running back Derrick Henry’s car as seen in the below Instagram photo. Henry is captured posing in front of a swanky, Crimson Tide-colored Dodge Challenger.

Is there any evidence to accuse Henry, and thereby the Alabama football program at large of violated NCAA rules? Of course not. But evidence is rarely necessary for a court of public opinion with ulterior motives to render a verdict.

Now, this is old news by the standards of the 24-hour news cycle, given it first surfaced Tuesday. However, it was resuscitated by former West Virginia quarterback Pat White’s claim Alabama offered him a Corvette, via Sporting News. White’s claim may be as connected to Henry’s photo as I am to Henry right now. I am wearing a red shirt while writing this, after all.

Nevertheless, White stoked the embers of a fire that attracts a particular boisterous kind of fan: one that demands retribution the moment any impropriety, real or perceived, is seen in another program.

Ironically, the same sentiment that elicits such bellyaching is the same motivating rule-breaker boosters, such as the bag men chronicled in Steven Godfrey’s expose on SB Nation. Both are rooted in a desire for competitive advantage.

So-called bag men dole out cash and gifts to entice highly touted recruits, thus produce a better on-field product.

A demand for swift and immediate justice arises any time a Derrick Henry posts a photo with a car, or if a Laquan Treadwell is holding fanned-out cash. Is it because the fanbases of other programs are so outraged to see NCAA rules (potentially, maybe, perhaps, no one knows) violated?

Not so much.

Rather, SEC Team X Fan cheers on a program that must compete with SEC Team Y. Both sides are a whole lot less likely to care if the program being investigated for improprieties is North Carolina.

USC is an exception, though the foundational logic is the same: USC received an unduly harsh punishment that impacted the program’s competitive edge. Why should others like North Carolina, Miami or Mississippi State get off easy?

One school of thought is that illicit benefits fill the void of NCAA-sanctioned compensation. That’s just not the case.

Reform is needed in any number of areas as it concerns college football and the compensation of student-athletes. When Boise State has to urge television viewers not to aid a homeless recruit because it violates NCAA regulations, that’s a problem. Athletes who generates university athletic departments, the NCAA, media outlets, administrators and coaches millions going to bed is a problem.

But the solution is not to start doling out automobiles (not meant to imply anything specific to Derrick Henry) or the deeds to new houses (is meant to reference Reggie Bush). While football and some men’s basketball programs create the kind of money that could afford such compensation, they would do so at the expense of every other sport on campus.

And even at that, the number of football and men’s basketball programs capable of providing lavish bonuses or big-money contracts is scant. That essentially equates to the NCAA subsidizing the bag men’s goal of creating a competitive advantage for the chosen few.

Enforcement of NCAA regulations and compensation reform are two uniquely complex issues that require well-reasoned solutions. In the meantime, let’s leave the struggle for competitive advantages on the field and off Instagram comments.