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Dartmouth men’s basketball team votes to join union, a first for college sports

More steps remain before actually unionizing, including a potential court challenge HANOVER, N.H. — The Dartmouth men’s basketball team voted to unionize Tuesday in an unprecedented step toward forming the first labor union for college athletes and another blow to the NCAA’s deteriorating amateur business model.

In an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board in the school’s human resources offices, the players voted 13-2 to join Service Employees International Union Local 560, which already represents some Dartmouth workers. Every player on the roster voted.

“Today is a big day for our team,” said Dartmouth juniors Cade Haskins and Romeo Myrthil, who have led the effort. “We stuck together all season and won this election. It is self-evident that we, as students, can also be both campus workers and union members. Dartmouth seems to be stuck in the past. It’s time for the age of amateurism to end.”

The school quickly appealed to the full NLRB, seeking to overturn last month’s decision by the board’s regional official that the Dartmouth players are employees and thus entitled to unionize. Both sides also have until March 12 to file an objection with the NLRB over the election procedures; barring that, the SEIU will be certified as the workers’ bargaining representative.

The case could also wind up in federal court, which would likely delay negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement until long after the current members of the basketball team have graduated.

Dartmouth had told students that unionizing could get the team kicked out of the Ivy League, or even the NCAA. In a statement, the school said it was supportive of the five unions it negotiates with on campus, including SEIU Local 560, but insisted that the players are students, not employees.

“For Ivy League students who are varsity athletes, academics are of primary importance, and athletic pursuit is part of the educational experience,” the school said in a statement. “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.”

Athletes or employees? Although the NCAA has long maintained that its players are “student-athletes” who were in school primarily to study, college sports has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry that richly rewards coaches and schools while the players remained unpaid amateurs.

Recent court decisions have chipped away at that framework, with players now allowed to profit off their name, image and likeness and earn a still-limited stipend for living expenses beyond the cost of attendance. Last month’s decision that the Big Green players are employees of the school, with the right to form a union, threatens to upend the amateur model.

“I think this is just the start,” Haskins said after voting. “I think this is going to have a domino effect on other cases across the country, and that could lead to other changes.”