Athletes Lawyer

Keeping You In The Game

College athletes move closer to becoming employees

On Behalf of | Mar 18, 2024 | Current Events |

Dartmouth University is an Ivy League school with a rich academic tradition but no sports powerhouse. Nevertheless, the school’s basketball team made national news when it announced that its members voted 13-2 on March 5 in favor of unionizing. On March 14, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified Local 560 (a service employees international union) to represent Dartmouth basketball players after the deadline passed for the school to object to the election. The school did not object to the vote, but it is appealing the NLRB decision that players are employees.

Assuming the appeal is unsuccessful, the players and school will negotiate a collective bargaining agreement involving salary, health care benefits and practice hours.

Similar to the USC case

California is once again ahead of the curve. The Dartmouth situation is similar to the preexisting unfair labor practices case that involves USC, the PAC 12 and the NCAA. USC players claim the school and league are joint employers of athletes since they:

  • Set rules and regulations over what athletes can and cannot do
  • How much practice is allowed
  • Other athletic activities

If the PAC12 and school lose the case and players can unionize, this could have a rippling effect on Dartmouth’s case and others, such as Johnson V. NCAA, which argues that student-athletes are like other student employees working on campus or for their school at a similar pay scale, which is around minimum wage.

With so much up in the air, it remains to be seen whether athletes will be paid on a school-by-school basis or negotiate an arrangement for an entire league. The Dartmouth players are working towards all the basketball or even all athletes in the conference. There are also questions about Title IX policies: Would women get the same number of jobs and pay as men? The other option would be to cut sports, which the NCAA claims will happen if players become employees.

Some of the many developments

These are just a few of several efforts that challenge the NCAA’s foundational belief that college athletes are amateurs despite recent breakthroughs in NIL (name image and likeness) deals. The NCAA continues to be on the losing side, with judges blocking several attempts by the NCAA to curb the use of NIL in recruiting athletes or forcing multiple time transfers to sit out a season. Continued NCAA losses will eventually bring down the House of Cards – it’s understood that the NCAA will lose eventually. This paradigm shift will be a monumental step toward dismantling the outdated amateurism model the NCAA has long upheld.

Balancing the scales of equity

It’s important to point out that acknowledging college athletes as employees is not just about money; it’s about equity. Many athletes come from backgrounds where scholarships are their only means to a college education. However, scholarships don’t cover all expenses, and NCAA rules restrict athletes from earning income related to their skills and services. By recognizing them as employees, schools and the NCAA can start to address the power imbalance and provide athletes with the financial stability they deserve.