Updated Feb 5, 2024 - Sports

Dartmouth men's basketball can unionize, labor board says

Dartmouth Big Green players huddle on the court prior to a college basketball game between the Dartmouth Big Green and the Boston University Terriers on December 13, 2022, at Case Gym in Boston, MA.

Dartmouth Big Green players huddle on the court before a college basketball game in Boston, Mass., in 2022. Photo: Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dartmouth men's basketball players are employees at their university and can proceed with creating a union, a National Labor Relations Board regional official determined Monday.

Why it matters: If they vote to unionize, the players at the Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire, would become the first union of athletes in the NCAA.

What we're watching: A spokesperson for Dartmouth College said Monday evening it will be "seeking a review of the decision" because "we do not believe our student-athletes are employees."

Driving the news: All 15 members of the Dartmouth team launched a petition in September seeking to join others at the college in becoming members of the Local 560 of the Service Employees International Union, which the school opposed.

Details: NLRB regional official Laura Sacks ruled that "because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the men's varsity basketball team, and because the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, the ... basketball players are employees within the meaning" of the National Labor Relations Act.

  • "Additionally, I find that asserting jurisdiction would not create instability in labor relations," she added.

Of note: Should the team vote to unionize, they would be allowed to negotiate on issues like compensation, benefits and working conditions — like the number of practice hours.

  • Separate cases involving compensation for collegiate athletes are underway, including a class action suit authorized last year by a federal judge.
  • In California, the case before a separate regional NLRB board regarding athletes on the football and basketball teams at the University of Southern California is ongoing.

What they're saying: "Our students come to Dartmouth to learn, conduct research, and pursue their academic goals. Similarly, our athletes' primary focus is learning, and our guiding principle is that students are scholars first and athletes second," said Diana Lawrence, a spokesperson for the college, in an emailed statement.

  • Lawrence said "it's important to understand that unlike other institutions where athletics generates millions of dollars in net revenue, the costs of Dartmouth's athletics program far exceed any revenue from the program — costs that Dartmouth bears as part of our participation in the Ivy League."
  • She noted the college does not compensate athletes, nor does it provide athletic scholarships, with all scholarships based on financial need. It's for these reasons, among others, why the college was seeking a review.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Dartmouth College spokesperson Diana Lawrence.

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