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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Dartmouth hoops union: a step toward ending slavery in college sports


Welcome to Winning Wednesday!


I go crazy whenever the subject of college athletes comes up.  To me, the system wherein college athletes don’t get paid a dime, when everyone around them can make millions of dollars off their work, can only be called slavery. 


As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  This week, the arc of college sports bent a bit, as the Dartmouth basketball team voted to join SEIU Local 560, which already represents some workers on the campus.  If they survive the school’s efforts to overturn the election, they’ll become the first labor union for college athletes.


Previously, the regional NLRB issued a ruling that the Dartmouth players are employees and thus entitled to unionize.


The arc has been bending increasingly fast in the past few years.  In September 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill effectively allowing college athletes in the state to earn compensation for the use of their name and likeness (NIL), sign endorsement deals and hire agents to represent them.  The law took effect in January 2023. 


Big-time college sports fans began to fear that if they didn’t find a way to compensate athletes, they would start losing them to competing sports programs.  So they started creating these “booster collectives,” wherein boosters would pool money and pay athletes to sign autographs, appear at events and such.  By spring 2022, Fortune reported that athletes were making millions of dollars from these collectives.  Others were signing lucrative brand sponsorship deals.  The NCAA has been unable to stop this train, though publicly they remain committed to their “amateur athlete” fantasy.


Though at least some of the current players may graduate before the union issue is settled at Dartmouth, athletes at other NCAA schools are pursuing similar efforts.  Big-time coaches are coming out and saying it’s time to compensate athletes.  It seems clear the system isn't long for this world. The NCAA was invincible – until it wasn’t.  That gives me hope that other previously unbeatable villains will go down too.  Congrats to the Dartmouth players!

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