Dartmouth men's basketball team votes to unionize in historic move

For the first time, college athletes have successfully voted to be recognized as employees of their school, but some steps lie ahead.
Posted at 3:37 PM, Mar 05, 2024

The Dartmouth men's basketball team has voted to unionize, marking an unprecedented step that could significantly alter the business model of collegiate sports. 

The 13-2 vote among team members Tuesday came a month after the National Labor Relations Board ruled the athletes were employees of their school, making them eligible to join a union and ordering this election to vote on it. 

The board agreed with players' attorneys that a lack of direct payments from the university doesn't negate their status as employees, but Dartmouth does not agree with the call.

The school has argued the players come for an education and to play basketball, but not for payment. It's expected to appeal the NLRB's decision and has five business days to file an objection to Tuesday's vote, but it can also appeal to the federal court, which would delay a collective bargaining agreement until long after the current team members have graduated.

"The students on the men's basketball team are not in any way employed by Dartmouth," a statement from the university read. "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." 

Will college athletes unionize? We'll soon find out
Basketball on a court during an NCAA men's college basketball game.

Will college athletes unionize? We'll soon find out

The Dartmouth men's basketball team will vote on whether it wants to unionize, in yet another step that could further erode the power of the NCAA.


The historic vote comes at a time when college athletes have increasingly been pushing the NCAA's long-held rules regarding players and their profits.

In 2021, the NCAA said players can now get paid for participating in outside deals regarding their name, image and likeness. Then last month, a federal judge blocked the NCAA from enforcing restrictions on players signing NIL deals before joining their programs.

As for being regarded as employees of the multibillion dollar industry itself, the Dartmouth players and the NLRB agree that despite not receiving direct payment from the NCAA, the slew of benefits they receive counts as compensation. That includes part of their room and board, apparel, sports nutrition, academic support, career development, training and more, the board said. 

The NLRB also argued the "significant control" Dartmouth exercises over the basketball players' "work" constitutes employment. 

"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," the NLRB said. "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."

This is not the first time college athletes have tried to unionize. Nearly a decade ago, Northwestern University's football team filed a petition to allow a vote, but after the NLRB gave an initial approval, the university appealed and later had the decision reversed.