Cars are cool.
That’s the basic concept America has been relying on since the invention of the automobile, and that simple fact has shaped how we work, travel and vacation for more than a century today. In the process, we’ve created a vehicle monoculture in this country that essentially demands that we buy cars, use gas, and build massive highways (often by neighborhoods that aren’t socio-economically privileged enough to avoid this), at the expense of literally other forms of transportation. , most of which are more efficient and better for the environment.
But not so cool! And that counts for something!
During college, I drove a 2001 dark green Chevrolet Cavalier. It was originally my mother’s car, had a torn upholstery, the paint had faded from the roof and came with real AM/FM radio and nothing else. I don’t consider myself to have particularly expensive tastes, but the Cavalier was purely a choice of convenience, not preference. When you’re young and in college and single, it doesn’t really matter how frugal you are in general, there are times when your lizard brain really wants to impress other people. I have no other tangible qualities to do that on my own, and I could never do that in the car I’m describing to you. I wanted a cool car. I wasn’t destined to get one.
So maybe that’s why I never felt the outrage that the collective college football world expected of me around 2011 when stories like this popped up on my radar:
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State Compliance Director reviews at least 50 car sales to Buckeyes athletes and family members to see if they’ve met NCAA rules, The Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday. […]
The Dispatch reported that a car salesman who received game passes from Ohio state athletes transacted many of the deals at two different dealerships. […]
However, a case of a vehicle sale to a Buckeyes player, previously reported to have a purchase price of $0, was clarified by the Dispatch on Wednesday.
The ESPN.com article goes on to list several alleged deals and possibly “shady” auto exchanges, but I clearly remember reading about this and utterly failed to raise even the slightest concern. And I felt a little bad about this; was my moral compass really so degraded that the possibility of such a blatant rule-breaking didn’t even come close to raising an eyebrow?
No, as it turned out, because A) the Joe Paterno child abuse scandal was about to break a few months later, making all of this a relief, and B) the NCAA had insane, archaic rules about amateurism, and C) cars are cool.
Still, cars (and more specifically car dealerships) have been shorthand for breaking NCAA rules for years. The winking and pushing about how players from other teams drive new vehicles they never could possible It has long been the way rivals imply that their team is pure and good and the other team is bad and cheating. You drive Lamborghinis, we drive Flintstones cars with our feet out of the ground.
That may be changing. We reported on CJ Stroud’s new car deal, but that’s just one of many pretty incredible rides That college football players here and all over the country become a natural result of the NIL deals being offered to high profile players. I’m especially a pretty big fan of the sick paint job on the Jaxon Smith-Njigba ride, but I’m not going to lie: they all look fantastic. Is it strange that a guy who barely played in college? get an Aston Martin to work around in? Yes. Is that reaction mostly out of jealousy that I don’t have an Aston Martin to work around in? Also yes.
For me, despite everything NIL brings further, this still puts a smile on my face. Even if they’re loaner cars, and even if they should at least be a hybrid, it’s nice to see school kids’ faces light up in exactly the same way that mine would if I were given those keys.
The next step now is to expand the vision of what these vehicle deals could be. Why a coupe? Wouldn’t it be sweet to see an Ohio State quarterback drive an Astrowagon to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center? What is the exchange rate between a Mercedes and a handful of jet skis? Is there a reason why a player can’t have their own helicopter? A train? If we’re going to do this, we might as well be creative with it.
It’s understandable (and probably appropriate) to be wary of NIL as a concept, and especially since it’s been applied thus far. But it’s okay to talk about crash barriers while acknowledging how nice this all looks.