‘This is NIL all over again’: How Dartmouth men’s basketball union could shape revenue sharing debate

The Dartmouth men’s basketball team formed the first union in NCAA sports on Tuesday – a decision the Big Green confirmed with a 13-2 vote that marks the next momentous shift in college athletics. 

Is this the next step toward revenue sharing? That’s one scenario Athletes.org founder and chairman Jim Cavale can see in the future. 

Cavale saw the movement toward a union as a next logical step after NCAA president Charlie Baker appealed for highly-resourced schools to pay athletes through trust funds on Dec. 5 in a letter sent to 350 schools. 

“This is NIL all over again, where everyone stayed back in the mode of preservation and tried to act like it wasn’t going to happen even though (Ed) O’Bannon won that case and it was clearly going to happen,” Cavale told Sporting News. “Then it happened and no one was ready. This one is going to be a lot more impactful than NIL.” 

Will Dartmouth appeal men’s basketball union? 

How long will it take for that impact to be felt? According to the Associated Press, Dartmouth appealed the men’s basketball team’s decision to the National Labor Relations Board and will seek to overturn the decision that the Dartmouth players are university employees. Both sides have until March 12 to file an objection with the NLRB over election procedures.

Dartmouth men’s basketball players will be part of Service Employees International Union Local 560, which already represents university employees. Cavale sees the decision through the perspective of both sides, but for the student-athlete the need to be represented has increased. 

“This is coming, and I (as an athlete) need to be part of a group that can advocate and negotiate for me to get the best terms in every category, starting with revenue sharing,” Cavale said. “That’s what I see.” 

To Cavale’s point – the O’Bannon vs. NCAA ruling came down on Aug. 8, 2014. That paved the way for student-athletes to benefit from Name, Image and Likeness – which took effect in 2021. 

Cavale founded Athletes.org, which is a non-profit organization designed for college athletes to provide on-demand support for their experience and to provide an outlet to speak about the continually changing landscape of college sports. The changes from the Dartmouth men’s basketball team forming a union could take hold more quickly. In other words, the conversation about revenue sharing in college athletics is about to turn up. 

“There is no way they can really negotiate terms or collectively bargain if they are not part of a players’ association, which probably will be a union as things head more and more toward employment,” Cavale said. 

This could be the NCAA’s next lengthy court battle. According to the Associated Press, Dartmouth “told students that unionizing could get the team kicked out of the league, or even the NCAA.” That is because the players are students and not employees. The school released a statement: 

“For Ivy League students who are varsity athletes, academics are of primary importance, and athletic pursuit is part of the educational experience. Classifying these students as employees simply because they play basketball is as unprecedented as it is inaccurate. We, therefore, do not believe unionization is appropriate.”

Name, Image and Likeness vs. revenue sharing in college sports

Under the current NIL rules, student-athletes can benefit from their likeness – and Cavale estimates that 80% of NIL comes from collectives – which are entities outside the school that raise money for the university. That is money is then given to the athletes, and with that there are major misconceptions about the scope and function of NIL. 

“There are people walking around that think hundreds of college football players are making seven figures, and in reality it’s a couple dozen,” Cavale said. 

Revenue sharing means that the student-athletes would become university employees and that money would come out of the gross revenue from the university.That distinction could define the next chapter in major college athletics. Cavale said a “New Deal” is coming to athletics in the future. The Dartmouth men’s basketball union is the first step toward making that reality. That conversation is in motion now. 

“There is absolutely no way you can create a new deal without grouping the athletes and negotiating terms for revenue sharing and all the transformation categories,” Cavale said. “You have to deal with the athletes to create the new deal of the future. 

“The implications are growing in their awareness that they will have to join a players association that will represent them as a group in negotiations in all kinds of categories — like revenue sharing and other benefits with their school, with their conference and with the NCAA,” he said.  

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