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Labor board says Dartmouth basketball players can unionize

A government panel says that even if a university does not pay players, they earn enough benefits to be considered employees.
Labor board says Dartmouth basketball players can unionize
Posted at 11:29 AM, Feb 06, 2024

Dartmouth's men's basketball team was told it is allowed to unionize following a National Labor Relations Board decision issued Monday. 

Attorneys for the players argued that athletes are essentially employees of the university even if they do not receive direct payments from the university. They argue benefits such as free apparel, travel and meals constitute as pay. 

"The players receive numerous fringe benefits, including academic support, career development, sports and counseling psychology, sports nutrition, leadership and mental performance training, strength and conditioning training, sports medicine, and integrative health and wellness," the National Labor Relations Board wrote.

Dartmouth can appeal the decision. 

Dartmouth argued that players come to the university for an education and to play basketball, but not for payment. The university added that it does not generate a profit off of its men's basketball program and there is no "economic relationship" between the university and the men's basketball team. 

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Unlike most Division I men's basketball leagues, the Ivy League does not permit scholarships to be award to athletes. Instead, athletes must go through the same financial aid process most other students go through. 

According to the National Labor Relations Board, four of the 15 members of the team do not receive any sort of financial aid. 

"Dartmouth exercises significant control over the basketball players’ work. The players are required to provide their basketball services to Dartmouth only," National Labor Relations Board said. "The Student-Athlete Handbook in many ways functions as an employee handbook, detailing the tasks athletes must complete and the regulations they may not break. While it is true that Dartmouth itself must follow restrictions placed on it by the NCAA and the Ivy League, Dartmouth has significant ability to make decisions within the framework of those restrictions."

The ruling does not automatically mean that players will become unionized. The ruling gives them the option to take a vote to determine whether to form a union. 

This is not the first time the government has been asked to determine whether college athletes can unionize. Nearly a decade ago, Northwestern University's football team filed a petition to allow them to unionize. After the NLRB gave an initial approval, the university appealed and later had the decision reversed. 

One difference between then and now is that back then, players were unable to earn off their name, image and likeness. In 2021, the NCAA said players can now get paid for participating in advertisements and endorsements. 

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