Dartmouth basketball union, explained: What comes next after vote to form first union in NCAA sports

The landscape of college athletics is shifting. The introduction of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals for college athletes completely changed the game, opening doors (and dollars).

The Dartmouth men’s basketball team is looking to push that transformation further. The Big Green voted 13-2 on Tuesday to join the local service employees union and form the first union in NCAA sports.

While the team is not an official labor union just yet, the decision marks the first time a group of college athletes has taken action as employees, not students, of their school. All 15 players participated in the vote to join Service Employees International Union Local 560, which already represents a number of Dartmouth workers. 

“Today is a big day for our team,” Dartmouth juniors Cade Haskins and Romeo Myrthil said. “We stuck together all season and won this election. It is self-evident that we, as students, can also be both campus workers and union members.

“Dartmouth seems to be stuck in the past. It’s time for the age of amateurism to end.”

Even with a long road ahead, the vote is an unprecedented step to forming the first-ever labor union for NCAA athletes. Here’s what you need to know about Dartmouth and its unionization efforts.

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Dartmouth basketball union, explained

The Dartmouth men’s basketball team started the unionization process months ago. And in February, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Big Green players were employees of the school.

Tuesday’s vote marked the players’ first official action as employees. The hope is that other Ivy League teams will follow suit, which could lead to a conference-wide collaboration between athletes, Dartmouth players said.

Not everyone is on board with the idea of these athletes being considered employees. The university filed an appeal of the NLRB’s decision to recognize the players as employees, and Dartmouth could potentially bring the fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which could take years.

Both sides also have until March 12 to file an objection with the NLRB over the procedures for Tuesday’s election.

In a statement, the university said it was supportive of the five unions currently on campus. But the statement pushed back on the players claiming to be employees of the school.

“For Ivy League students who are varsity athletes, academics are of primary importance, and athletic pursuit is part of the educational experience,” the university said in a statement. “Classifying these students as employees simply because they play basketball is as unprecedented as it is inaccurate.”

The effort of the Dartmouth basketball players is the latest in the evolving business model of college athletics. NCAA president Charlie Baker said that he believes “many colleges want to provide more benefits to their athletes, but neither the schools nor most of the players he asked wanted to be considered employees,” according to ESPN

“The student-athlete advisory councils that we work with have all basically said, ‘We’re all-in on compensation. We think [name, image and likeness deals] are a great thing. The enhanced educational benefits, that could be really important for many of us,’” Baker said in a February interview with ESPN. “But employment? That’s not where they want to land.”

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Baker, as well as other leaders throughout college sports, are turning to Congress to create a federal law declaring that college athletes are not employees of their schools. But such a law would not come any tiem in the near future.

While Congress has been involved with numerous hearings related to this subject over the last several years, no significant progress has been made on any sort of legislation when it comes to college sports.

While there are certainly those that oppose the decision of Dartmouth’s basketball team, the players are hoping that their stance is a springboard for others to follow suit, creating a larger voice for unions.

“I think this is just the start,” Haskins said. “I think this is going to have a domino effect on other cases across the country, and that could lead to other changes.”


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