Fifteen student athletes on the Dartmouth men’s varsity basketball team were deemed employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and are entitled to an election to decide union representation – the first for NCAA athletes.
In a February 5, 2024, decision, a Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board found that the basketball players are employees of Dartmouth. Three factors were key to the determination:
(1) the men’s basketball team brings in revenue for Dartmouth, which demonstrates employment regardless of profits, or lack thereof,
(2) Dartmouth exercised significant control over the basketball players’ work, and
(3) Dartmouth’s basketball players are compensated in exchange for work performed.
The decision detailed the different types of compensation players received, including favorable admission priority and decisions, shoes, apparel, lodging, meals, and tickets to games. Other fringe benefits include “academic support, career development, sports and counseling psychology, sports nutrition, leadership and mental performance training, strength and conditioning training, sports medicine, and integrative health and wellness.”
If student athletes are employees under the NLRA, could this decision translate to student athletes having employee status under other federal (or state) employment or labor laws? For example, are student athletes entitled to minimum wage or overtime? What about employee leave? Do student athletes have a right to reinstatement following FMLA leave for a serious (presumably sports-related) injury? The floodgates are open and if student athletes are now employees under the NLRA, the future of collegiate sports will be significantly impacted throughout the country.
We expect that Dartmouth will file a request for review of the decision with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., and we will continue to follow this groundbreaking case at the intersection of collegiate sports and employment law.