As first appeared in Boxscore
By Aron Solomon
As of Thursday afternoon, fifteen members of the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union.
This really is groundbreaking stuff in the world of college sports. If successful, this would be the first union of college athletes in the nation. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 560 is supporting the players in their efforts.
This is anything but a college stunt. The players are seeking to be recognized as employees of the college, which would give them the right to collectively bargain for better working conditions, including health care, scholarships, and compensation for their time and effort on the court.
The players’ argument is remarkably sound both practically and legally. They argue that they are generating revenue for the college through their athletic performances and should be compensated accordingly.
The formation of a union would have significant implications for the future of college athletics. If successful, it could pave the way for other college athletes to form unions and demand better working conditions. It could also lead to a shift in the way college sports are organized and financed, with more emphasis on the rights and well-being of the athletes.
However, the formation of a union of college athletes is not going to be easy. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has long maintained that college athletes are not employees and therefore cannot unionize. The NCAA has also argued that unionization would undermine the amateur status of college sports and lead to a host of other problems.
The reality is, as is almost always the case, the exact opposite of what the NCAA is suggesting.
Successful unionization of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team would be a massive step towards equity in the world of college sports. To have a say as to their working conditions and a chance at the piece of the large pie of college sports revenues would tear away at the practical monopoly the colleges have had on the labor of their athletes. This is, after all, exactly why unions were formed.
The outcome of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team’s unionization efforts remains to be seen. As Attorney Tim George observed, “The National Labor Relations Board will need to review the players’ petition and determine whether the members of the basketball team meet the criteria for employee status.”
If the petition is approved, the players will be able to hold an election to determine whether they want to form a union.
There is no way that the power brokers in college sports are going to let this go forward without a massive fight. The colleges and the NCAA understand that what the Dartmouth team is waging here isn’t just another battle, it might be the entire war.
There is also a particular Ivy League element to all of this. As a member of the Ivy League, Dartmouth’s student-athletes can’t earn athletic scholarships, so a union makes even more sense. Essentially, a Dartmouth basketball player is operating at a deficit from their other Division 1 peers who earn scholarships, often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars over the entirety of a college education.
If the team succeeds, this will have far-reaching implications for the future of college sports. However, the outcome of the players’ petition remains uncertain, and it could take years rather than months for the issue to reach the final buzzer.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.