A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has taken a significant step in challenging the amateurism status of college sports by allowing the Dartmouth men’s basketball team to hold a union election. Laura A. Sacks, in her ruling, stated that because Dartmouth has control over the work performed by the basketball team and the players receive compensation, they can be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act.
Dartmouth plans to appeal the decision, maintaining that the students are not employees. This decision follows a trend in the evolving conversation around college athletes’ status, especially considering changes such as athletes being able to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) since July 2021.
The ruling echoes a 2015 case involving Northwestern’s football team, initially receiving approval for a union election but later dismissed by the NLRB. The landscape has changed since then, with NIL opportunities providing athletes with additional income. The NLRB is currently engaged in a trial to determine whether USC’s football and basketball players are employees.
If the Dartmouth players unionize, they could negotiate compensation and working conditions with the school. The appeal process, which might take months, could extend to higher courts, favoring the school. The outcome could also be influenced by the composition of the NLRB board, with the potential for changes after the next presidential election.
In response to the decision, Dartmouth players leading the unionization effort announced the formation of the Ivy League Players Association to organize basketball players across the conference. Dartmouth’s argument against unionization, based on the school not profiting from basketball, was countered by Sacks, who emphasized that profitability does not impact employee status. The ruling also considered the coaching staff’s influence on the work environment, treating the student-athlete handbook like an employee handbook.
The case has broader implications for college sports, especially within private Ivy League institutions. The decision may set a precedent for other schools and conferences while the appeal process and potential legal challenges continue to unfold.