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Dartmouth Men’s Basketball Set for Historic Union Vote

  • On Tuesday, players will participate in an official NLRB election over whether to create a men’s basketball players’ union.
  • The outcome of the vote will be the first of its kind to be announced publicly.
Justin Lafleur – Dartmouth Athletics

On Tuesday night, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team will face off against Harvard. But for players, the game won’t be the most monumental activity of the day: a few hours earlier, they’ll vote on whether to certify a team union. This is the first time in NCAA history that the outcome of a team union vote will be announced to the public. 

The vote is the next step in a lengthy process that players have embarked upon to be classified as employees, and to create a union, through the National Labor Relations Board. They first filed a union petition with the local NLRB office in September and were declared employees by an opinion handed down in February. 

If players vote to unionize, they’re effectively taking one more step toward killing the NCAA’s business model of amateurism. A Dartmouth players’ union would allow athletes to collectively bargain with the school for wages and other employee benefits entitled to employees under U.S. labor law (including workers’ compensation, which the NCAA created the term “student-athlete” to avoid). Other athletes on campus, as well as in the Ivy League, could follow suit. Dartmouth players have said that they hope to create an Ivy League Players’ Union to facilitate other campus organizing efforts. 

Technically, the ruling would only apply to private school athletes in Division I, as the NLRB’s jurisdiction does not extend to the public sector. But the NCAA would likely be forced to allow all athletes to be employees in order to prevent major disparities across college sports. (A separate ongoing NLRB case in California involving USC football and basketball players could allow the NLRB to declare D-I football and basketball players as public school employees, too.)

Ultimately, the NCAA and its schools would have to rethink how they finance college sports—and concede that they owe players a cut of the billions they make each year.

An Ongoing Battle

Dartmouth tried to get the election canceled, or at least have the ballots impounded, in a last-second motion last week. However, as of publication, the election is proceeding as planned.

The school is working on a formal appeal of the ruling, which will be reviewed by the NLRB’s national board. An appeals process could continue all the way up to the Supreme Court—a likely outcome given that the NCAA, conference, and schools are looking to prevent an employment model at all costs.

A Little History

Though Tuesday will provide the first recorded outcome of an NCAA D-I team union vote, it’s not the first election to take place. In 2014, Northwestern football players went through a similar process. They were able to vote, but their ballots were impounded. The unionization petition was ultimately struck down on a technicality, so the NLRB never released the vote results.

Follow Amanda Christovich and Front Office Sports on X (formerly Twitter) for live coverage of the election and other updates.

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