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Saturday, May 18, 2024

NLRB Rules that Dartmouth Men’s Basketball Players Are Employees

  • On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board declared that Dartmouth players can hold an election to unionize.
  • The landmark ruling could shatter the NCAA’s amateurism model.
Dartmouth Athletics

On Monday, a National Labor Relations Board regional director issued a landmark ruling that could shatter the NCAA’s amateurism model. Dartmouth men’s basketball players are considered university employees under U.S. labor law—and therefore are eligible to unionize.

“Because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, I find that the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the [National Labor Relations] Act,” the 26-page decision, reviewed by Front Office Sports, read. “Additionally, I find that asserting jurisdiction would not create instability in labor relations. Accordingly, I shall direct an election in the petitioned-for unit.”

The case was first filed in September of 2023 by a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. A virtual hearing took place in October that saw witness testimony from current players and athletic department officials. 

The ruling touched on several common themes considered during the hearing, including the amount of control Dartmouth exerts over athletes and the compensation they receive—even if not monetary—that constitutes them as employees. Ivy League athletes do not receive athletic scholarships like other members of Division I programs, but the NLRB regional director found that the other forms of compensation they received, like apparel, were enough. The lack of profitability also did not appear to be a deterrent from the NLRB declaring the players employees.

In a statement to FOS, a Dartmouth spokesperson said the school will appeal the ruling. “Unlike other institutions where athletics generates millions of dollars in net revenue, the costs of Dartmouth’s athletics program far exceed any revenue from the program–costs that Dartmouth bears as part of our participation in the Ivy League,” the school said. “We also do not compensate our athletes, nor do we provide athletic scholarships; all scholarships are based on financial need.”

The NCAA, meanwhile, is “in the process of reviewing the [NLRB] decision and its potential impact on all schools and student-athletes,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

A representative from Ivy League did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

What’s next? The Dartmouth team will have the opportunity to hold a union election, though a specific date hasn’t been set. Dartmouth’s administration has 10 business days to file an appeal of the ruling.

The election would still go forward even after the appeal is filed—and the results would be publicized. In the meantime, the National Labor Relations Board’s appeal process would begin. The board usually consists of five people: three Democrats and two Republicans under the Biden administration. However, there’s currently a vacancy in one of the Republican seats. At least three board members would have to agree on a decision, which could take several months. The appeal process could continue beyond this board, however, to a Circuit Court and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court.

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