Over the past few years, college athletes have gained more rights than ever before. In 2021, players were allowed to earn pay for their name, image and likeness (NIL). In 2022, they were allowed the ability to transfer more than once with an NCAA waiver. Now, in 2024, there seems to be unionization on the horizon for one specific team. Dartmouth men’s basketball is holding a vote to potentially unionize.
Unionization in college athletics is unprecedented, to say the least, but that may not be the case following March 5, when Dartmouth will determine whether or not the players will unionize.
Throughout the player empowerment movement, the line between the titles of student-athlete and employee has been continuously blurred. It is no secret that these athletes make the NCAA nearly countless amounts of money, selling tickets and merchandise. However, the NCAA has maintained that there is a reason that “student” is the first part of student-athlete.
However, the National Labor Relations Board recently cleared the way for Dartmouth to unionize by erasing that blurred line, determining that players were, in fact, employees of their teams. Unionization would allow the Big Green players to negotiate salary and working conditions.
This is a big shift in college athletics, but I would argue it is a necessary and good one that paves the way for even more improvements to the structure of the NCAA.
Prior to any talk of unionization, the NCAA was looking at a better future on its own by allowing more transfer portal freedom and allowing players to make money through NIL. Not only does it encourage athletes to stay in college longer, but it allows them to find a situation in which they can thrive, resulting in a better viewing experience.
The more great players you have, the more people want to watch, especially in a fan-base-driven environment like college basketball. Therefore, the happier the players are, the better they perform and the more money the NCAA brings in through viewership.
It can be assumed that if Dartmouth votes in favor of unionizing on March 5, other teams will follow and the boundaries of player empowerment will continue to be pushed.
“Collaborative decision-making” was the term used to describe the intent of allowing for unionization, and I think the phrase fits. This is not a movement meant to cause a rift between athlete and program, but one that helps to mend that relationship, changing it fundamentally to make it a relationship between equals who recognize they need one another.
In the context of college athletics, and in life in general, allowing workers what is necessary to provide them with a happy working environment is essential for allowing the situation to run as smoothly as possible.
Another possible benefit of unionization is giving smaller programs a chance to recruit at a higher level. Dartmouth currently sits seventh in the Ivy League with a record of 5-15. It is not a high-major program nor is it one that’s currently winning, and there is an academic requirement to get in as part of the Ivy League.
However, with more inherent advantages to joining, rather than simply boosting a player’s chance at getting drafted, smaller programs will likely have more pull than they would have otherwise.
Of course, until the decision of whether or not to unionize is finalized, all of this will be speculation. There is a chance in which unionization does not occur in Dartmouth and years go by before another team tries with no guarantee of success. However, if Dartmouth votes in favor of unionization, we could be looking at the most unprecedented change in NCAA history; one with a bright and positive future for both the NCAA and the players.
Logan Adams is a sophomore studying journalism. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Logan know by tweeting him @LoganA_NBA.