April 1, 2024

Dartmouth Basketball’s Unionization: The Downfall of Amateurism

March Madness is in full swing, showcasing 68 college teams vying for the championship and captivating millions of viewers. Teams not in contention for the national title are either participating in other postseason tournaments or winding down for the offseason. Dartmouth Basketball, currently in offseason mode, isn't simply waiting around. They're actively campaigning for employee status and collective bargaining rights. After voting to unionize, Dartmouth is set on shaking up college sports.  

March 5th, the date when the Dartmouth men’s basketball team voted to unionize, might soon be seen as the beginning of the end for amateurism. The team’s 13-2 vote to join SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 560 made them the first unionized college sports team in America. SEIU assists roughly 2M members across the U.S. and Canada in obtaining adequate compensation for their labor and improving their working conditions. Before the landmark vote, NLRB regional director Laura Sacks was already building their case. She publicly stated that an employer-employee relationship does exist between the Dartmouth basketball players and the college. The players, she explained, “benefit their school through things like alumni donations and publicity… and that Dartmouth exercises a lot of control over that work.”

dartmouth basketball

Not everyone is supportive of this movement. The Dartmouth Board of Trustees are opposed to the union vote as they aim to uphold the tradition of amateurism in college sports. Their lack of support stems from their efforts to maintain the status quo, prompting them to petition the National Labor Relations Board to intervene and overturn the decision. For decades, universities and the NCAA have upheld a model of college athletics where athletes dedicate themselves to practice, training, and competition without financial compensation. This setup ensures greater profits for the NCAA and universities alike. While recent changes allow athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness, significant revenue opportunities remain elusive, particularly for non-Power 5 athletes, including those in the Ivy League.

In Division I athletics, especially in high-revenue sports like football, basketball, and hockey, most teams provide scholarships to nearly all players. Non-revenue sports typically offer 10 to 13 scholarships for men's teams and 12 to 20 for women's teams. Ivy League teams are ineligible for athletic scholarships; instead, they offer financial aid based on academic and financial need. Despite this aid, Ivy League students face higher costs than average. For example, Princeton, the most affordable Ivy League school, costs around $80K annually before financial aid. Ivy League student-athletes juggle demanding Division I schedules and tough academics with fewer opportunities for NIL deals and national exposure. Many feel representing their universities brings little tangible benefit. With these challenges in mind, Dartmouth athletes hope to change that narrative and shift the power from the universities to the athletes. 

khurt williams KRAKOKFZmNE unsplash edited scaled - Dartmouth Basketball’s Unionization: The Downfall of Amateurism - Athelo Group

Unionizing allows Dartmouth men’s basketball players to access improved health and insurance benefits, negotiation power for pay, better working conditions (including practice hours and travel), and more. Juniors Cade Haskins and Romeo Myrthil advocate for a fairer business model in college sports, including unions for Ivy League players. Establishing a Players Association aims to promote unity, advocate for athletes’ rights and well-being, and facilitate collaborative decision-making. This milestone signifies progress towards ending amateurism in college athletics.

While the March 5th vote won't immediately classify all student-athletes as employees, it represents a significant step towards securing their rights. Official recognition of the union and collective bargaining remains months away, but college athletes, universities, and fans can anticipate positive changes to come.

Sources:

  1. https://apnews.com/article/dartmouth-union-ncaa-basketball-players-2fd912fade62ffd81218a6dc91461962
  2. https://www.npr.org/2024/03/05/1235877656/ncaa-dartmouth-mens-basketball-union-election-nlrb
  3. https://theathletic.com/5319403/2024/03/06/dartmouth-basketball-union-explained/
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/05/us/dartmouth-basketball-union-athletes-employees.html
  5. https://www.recruitref.com/blog/what-sport-gives-the-most-scholarships#:~:text=In%20Division%20I%20men's%20sports,%2C%20ice%20hockey%2C%20and%20basketball.
  6. https://www.causeiq.com/organizations/service-employees-international-union-560-local,036016587/
  7. https://www.politico.com/news/2024/03/05/dartmouth-basketball-team-union-vote-00144965#:~:text=But%20leaders%20of%20the%20Dartmouth,the%20basketball%20team%20also%20worked.

Stay in the loop.

Enter your email to sign up for the Athelo Group newsletter.
menuchevron-down