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In a potentially significant ruling that could have lasting effects on college sports, a National Labor Relations Board regional director ruled that men’s basketball players from Dartmouth College should be considered employees, per Gabe Feldman of the SportsWise podcast.
The ruling also ordered an election to potentially create the first-ever labor union for NCAA athletes.
This is not the first time such a ruling has been made in regards to college sports, and it can be appealed at a national level. Chris Vannini of The Athletic noted Northwestern football players were given a similar ruling in 2015 only for it to be overturned nationally.
However, he also pointed out the climate around college sports is different with the implementation of name, image and likeness rules for athletes and a shift in some public opinion.
As for the Dartmouth case, the NLRB regional director differentiated between college sports and extracurricular activities due to the amount of time required to play sports at that level, per Vannini.
That means athletes could be viewed differently when it comes to employee status than students who do other activities such as music or acting.
Feldman provided more details, including some differences between Monday’s ruling and the Northwestern situation:
Gabe Feldman @SportsLawGuy
1) The fact that all Ivy League schools are private makes it more likely that the full NLRB will uphold the ruling because all Ivy athletes will have the ability to unionize;<br>2) Although collective bargaining in pro sports is b/w the players union and the entire league, the…
Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press noted all 15 members of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team signed a petition in September 2023 in an effort to join Local 560 of the Service Employees International Union.
Successfully doing so would mean players could negotiate for salary and time commitments such as practice hours and travel requirements.
“Because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, I find that the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the [National Labor Relations] Act,” the 26-page decision read, per Amanda Christovich of Front Office Sports.
There have been significant changes across the college sports landscape in recent years, which have largely provided players with more rights and freedoms. Those include more chances to make money through NIL deals and transfer more freely between schools.
However, colleges have pushed back at the notion that players are employees, as such a designation would dramatically alter the landscape of college sports.
This comes after Ross Dellenger of Yahoo Sports reported Friday that “the SEC and Big Ten, the two wealthiest conferences in America, are creating a joint advisory group of university presidents, chancellors and athletics directors to address the turmoil enveloping the industry.”
The conferences stressed it was not done in an effort to break away from the NCAA.
As for Monday’s ruling, it isn’t the only such case that could be under the spotlight.
Golen noted there is an ongoing hearing regarding a complaint to a different NLRB body in California that says USC football and basketball players should be considered employees of the school.
USC is moving to the Big Ten this year.