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Dartmouth College Men's Basketball Team Votes to Unionize, Challenging NCAA's Student-Athlete Stance

Dartmouth basketball team's historic vote to unionize challenges NCAA's stance, potentially reshaping college sports landscape.

By Mackenzie Crow

4/4, 09:27 EDT

Key Takeaway

  • Dartmouth College men's basketball team votes 13-2 to unionize with SEIU, challenging NCAA's stance on student-athletes as non-employees.
  • Legal battle anticipated as Dartmouth and NCAA oppose the move; case may reach Supreme Court, affecting broader NCAA policies.
  • Support from former athletes, labor leaders, and SEIU underscores growing momentum for college athlete unionization and rights.

Unionization Movement Gains Momentum

In an unprecedented move, the Dartmouth College men's basketball team has voted to unionize, marking a significant moment in college sports history. The team, with a 13-2 vote in favor, has chosen to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), challenging the long-standing NCAA stance that college athletes are not employees but students. This decision at Dartmouth, a college known more for its academic prowess than its athletic achievements, could potentially reshape the landscape of college sports and the definition of student-athletes.

The push for unionization was influenced by a broader wave of student labor activism on campus, notably among dining hall workers who successfully formed their own union, the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth. This movement led to substantial pay raises and improved working conditions for student workers, inspiring the basketball team to explore unionization. Cade Haskins, a forward on the team and a major in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, played a pivotal role in initiating the unionization effort after witnessing the positive impact of the dining workers' union.

Legal and Institutional Challenges

Dartmouth College and the NCAA have expressed strong opposition to the basketball team's unionization. Dartmouth contends that Ivy League athletes are not employees but students participating in an educational program that includes athletics. The college has vowed to challenge the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) regional director's decision, which supported the players' right to form a union, through the federal courts if necessary. The NCAA fears that recognizing athletes as employees could threaten the survival of college sports, especially for programs outside the wealthiest football-driven schools.

The legal battle over the Dartmouth basketball team's unionization effort is likely to be protracted, with potential implications for the broader NCAA and Ivy League policies on student-athletes. The case may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, given its significance in determining the employment status of college athletes.

Support and Advocacy for Unionization

The unionization effort at Dartmouth has garnered support from various quarters, including former professional athletes, labor leaders, and the local SEIU chapter. Walter Palmer, a Dartmouth alumnus and former professional basketball player, provided guidance to the team, emphasizing the changing landscape of college athletics and the potential for athletes to have a say in their working conditions. Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, also advised the team, highlighting the parallels between college athletes and workers in other sectors.

The involvement of the SEIU local chapter, led by Chris Peck and lawyer Jake Krupski, was crucial in formalizing the team's intent to unionize. The players' decision to sign union representation cards was a collective one, reflecting their desire for better healthcare coverage, wages for playing, and a voice in decisions affecting their lives as student-athletes.