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The NCAA decision and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

 Kurt Vonnegut Jr. has been called one of the most important contemporary writers and dark humor commentators on American society.

His first novel was “Player Piano” published in 1952. It was set in a fictional post World War III society where life was dominated by machines.

There were also some other significant differences from the way things were before the war.

Among these was college football, where the concept of amateur athletics was abandoned and instead all of the players were paid salaries. Recruiting was based on attracting players using salary incentives rather than scholarships.

I remember thinking when I read the book in 1971 that this could never happen in real life.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction or at least has similarities.

Fast forward to 2014 when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board found that Northwestern University’s scholarship football players were “paid employees” and could form a labor union.

Although this decision was reversed on appeal, the door to reviewing compensation for college athletes had opened briefly.

On June 21, 2021 the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) vs Alston and unanimously held that the NCAA’s rules restricting certain educational benefits for student athletes violated antitrust law under the Sherman Act. This law prohibits businesses colluding or merging, thus forming a monopoly, to dictate pricing in a particular market, which results in an unreasonable restraint of competition.

The court found the educational benefits restrictions by the NCAA and its member schools (such as not allowing laptops or paid internships) were anticompetitive and schools should be allowed to offer whatever educational benefits they wanted to recruits.

Because of the procedural posture of the case, the court didn’t rule on other possible non-educational benefits which could be offered including salaries.

However Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a concurring opinion, questioned the NCAA’s right to have any restrictions at all.

On June 30, in response to Alston, the restrictions on athletes signing professional endorsement contracts for their names, images, and likenesses, were removed by the NCAA.

Reportedly a number of athletes have already signed contracts.

No one knows what will happen next, but I am certain that if he were still with us Mr. Vonnegut would find this all very interesting.

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