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Dartmouth basketball players moved to form a union. Here’s how the sports world reacted

15 Dartmouth men’s basketball players are involved in the unionization effort

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Fifteen members of the 2023-24 Dartmouth men’s basketball team have moved to form a union.

Buffalo guard Dontay Caruthers, right, is defended by Dartmouth guard Brendan Barry during the first half of a game in Buffalo, N.Y., on Nov. 21, 2018. Fifteen members of the 2023-24 Dartmouth men’s basketball team have moved to form a union.

Adrian Kraus, Associated Press

Fifteen members of the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team have moved to form a union, and the sports world is buzzing with commentary on whether the effort will be successful.

Although most observers agree that the news is significant, college basketball experts don’t agree on whether it will lead to actual change.

They do share the sense that we won’t have that answer for a long time. The new unionization effort, like other attempts to receive compensation for playing college sports, will take years to play out.

“As is often true with law, change ... is slow and must go through extensive procedure. So be cautious with the inevitably exaggerated and probably inaccurate media headlines on this,” wrote Michael McCann, who serves as a legal expert for Sportico, on X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter.

What is happening with Dartmouth basketball players?

The 15 men’s basketball players at Dartmouth involved in the unionization effort have “filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union,” according to The Athletic.

“Team managers and supervisors were excluded from the filing, which was issued with the help of the New England-based Local 560 chapter of the Service Employees International Union,” the article said.

Their move follows a similar effort that began in 2014 football players at Northwestern University tried — but ultimately failed — to unionize.

“The NLRB unanimously decided in August 2015 not to accept jurisdiction over the matter. At that time, it said the board had no jurisdiction over public schools, addressing the Northwestern effort would run counter to the National Labor Relations Act’s charge that the board create stable and predictable labor environments in various industries,” USA Today reported.

Will the Dartmouth unionization effort succeed?

Some sports law experts believe the Dartmouth athletes are better positioned to succeed in their quest to unionize than the Northwestern athletes were.

For one thing, Dartmouth is part of a conference entirely made up of private schools, while Northwestern’s private status made it an oddball in the Big Ten. The NLRB’s decision could potentially apply to the whole Ivy League.

The Dartmouth students may also benefit from the fact that none of them receive athletic scholarships, according to Gabe Feldman, a sports law professor at Tulane University.

“In concluding that the Northwestern football players were employees, the NLRB Regional Director focused on (among other things) the fact that the players received ‘compensation’ in the form of athletic scholarships. There are no athletic scholarships in the Ivy League,” Feldman noted on X.

McCann noted that the Dartmouth men’s basketball players may also benefit from being on a campus where student unions already exist.

“Dartmouth student workers in dining services are already in a union,” he said.

Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, is among those who believe the Dartmouth athletes will successfully form a union.

“Not the first college sports team to try, but the first I think are going to win. Historic stuff, here,” he said on X.

At the very least, the Dartmouth news should help people realize that the debate over compensating college athletes is far from settled, said Mit Winter, who specializes in sports law, on X.

“It’s going to be fascinating to watch this play out. If the college athletics world wasn’t already preparing for a world where some college athletes are employees, this should be a wake up call to do so,” he said.