Monday, April 15, 2024

The Dartmouth basketball squad decided to be part of the inaugural college sports group

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On Tuesday, members of the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team made history by being the first college athletes to agree to join a union. The vote was 13-2 in favor, as confirmed by the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees such votes for private employers.

However, this positive vote doesn’t guarantee an immediate union for the team. Dartmouth has stated it will challenge the NLRB’s decision to recognize the players as employees eligible for union membership.

Dartmouth President Sian Beilock expressed the university’s viewpoint, saying they consider their athletes as students, not employees, and emphasized their commitment to student-athletes without providing athletic scholarships.

Despite this, a regional NLRB director ruled that the players are employees due to Dartmouth’s control over the basketball team’s work, performed in exchange for various compensations, such as room and board, equipment, tickets, footwear, access to professionals, facility use, and academic support.

This vote has significant implications, potentially reshaping the landscape of college sports, especially in high-revenue sports like football and basketball. In the last school year, Division I reported $7.9 billion revenue from football and basketball alone, contributing to the overall $17.5 billion generated by Division I athletics in 2022.

Dartmouth’s basketball program, though not a major revenue contributor, reported conflicting revenue figures. The school’s filing indicated $1.3 million, while in NLRB testimony, a lower number of $458,000 was reported.

The idea of union representation for college athletes has gained support, notably from former University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who emphasized the need for athletes to share in the substantial revenues produced by college sports. The NCAA has traditionally opposed compensation for athletes beyond scholarships, but a 2021 Supreme Court ruling opened the door for increased benefits.

Union leaders celebrated the Dartmouth team’s vote, acknowledging it as a significant step. Cade Haskins and Romeo Myrthil, leaders of the unionization effort, emphasized that students could be both campus workers and union members, advocating for a fairer business model in college sports.

As the Dartmouth basketball team wraps up its season, union leaders, including Mary Kay Henry from the Service Employees International Union, praised the players’ victory, seeing it as a step toward fair treatment not just in sports but for workers in various sectors. They anticipate further discussions with athletes in Dartmouth and the Ivy League about forming unions and advocating for athletes’ rights and well-being.

In the broader context, the success of unionizing college athletes reflects a growing trend of union organizing on campuses. Over 40,000 students have joined unions formed in the last two years, making colleges and universities a prominent sector for union growth in the U.S.

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