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After labor victory, Dartmouth players return to the basketball court

Dartmouth's Robert McRae III (23) and Romeo Myrthil (20) walk onto the court during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Men's basketball players for Dartmouth are attempting to unionize, filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board in September. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
Ben McKeown/AP
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FR171414 AP
Dartmouth's Robert McRae III (23) and Romeo Myrthil (20) walk onto the court during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Men's basketball players for Dartmouth are attempting to unionize, filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board in September. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

The two Dartmouth players working to unionize their basketball team say other athletes — both on campus and from other Ivy League schools — have been reaching out to see if they can join the effort.

Romeo Myrthil and Cade Haskins said Saturday they have been bombarded with messages on social media since a National Labor Relations Board official ruled last week that the Big Green players are employees of the school with the right to form a union.

“You kind of want to keep it on the low key, especially in the beginning phases,” Haskins said after Dartmouth played Harvard in its first game since the ruling. “But everyone’s really curious and kind of seeing the opportunity for real change in the future with what we’ve started doing.”

Although the NCAA has long maintained that players are “student-athletes” who were in school primarily to study, college sports has grown into a multibillion dollar industry that richly rewards the coaches and schools while the players remained unpaid amateurs.

Recent court decisions have chipped away at that model, with athletes now allowed to profit off their name, image and likeness. On Monday, Feb. 5 an NLRB official further damaged the NCAA model by agreeing with the Dartmouth basketball players that they were employees of the school, and thus entitled to unionize.

Speaking to two reporters after the game, a 77-59 Harvard victory, Myrthil and Haskins said they remain committed to including other teams and schools in the effort. Following the ruling, they announced plans to form a union of Ivy athletes to represent athletes across the conference.

“We want to try to expand it to an Ivy League Players Association, because that’s the one we’re most invested in,” Myrthil said. “But if other teams are interested, we’d be interested.”

Myrthil and Haskins said they were in practice when the decision was announced and, despite an onslaught of attention during the week, they weren’t distracted heading into Saturday’s game. There was no union discussion with Harvard players during or after the game, they said.

“The focus is always on basketball,” Myrthil said. “That doesn’t really change. Of course it’s a great decision. You’re happy that all this time you put into this is paying off a little bit. But it (doesn’t) change that.”

A college athletes union would be unprecedented in American sports. A previous attempt to unionize the Northwestern football team was scuttled because the Wildcats play in the Big Ten, which includes public schools that aren't under the jurisdiction of the NLRB.

That's why the NCAA's biggest threat isn't coming in one of the big-money football programs like Alabama or Michigan, which are in many ways indistinguishable from professional sports. Instead, it is the academically oriented Ivy League, where players don’t receive athletic scholarships and the teams play before sparse crowds, like the 1,636 at Harvard's Lavietes Pavilion on Saturday.

(NCAA President Charlie Baker, a former Harvard basketball player and Massachusetts governor, often attends the Crimson games but was not present.)

Through a spokesman, Dartmouth coach David McLaughlin declined to comment Saturday on the unionization effort. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said in a statement: “I’m not sure what it all means, but I’m sure it will find its way, and we will figure it out.”

Myrthil and Haskins aren’t really sure how things will sort out, either. Dartmouth has indicated it will ask the full NLRB to review the regional director’s decision; that body is composed of one Republican appointee and three Democrats (one of them, David Prouty, is a former Service Employees International Union lawyer and former general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association).

The basketball team has scheduled a March 5 union election. All 15 members of the team signed the initial petition asking to be represented by the SEIU, which already represents some Dartmouth workers. Myrthil said he had no reason to expect anything different when the players vote.

Even with a favorable decision from the full NLRB, Dartmouth could take the case into the federal courts, which could drag it out for years. Haskins and Myrthil, who are both juniors, said they understand the effort might not ultimately benefit them.

“We have teammates here that we all love and support,” Myrthil said. “And whoever comes into the Dartmouth family is part of our family. So, we’ll support them as much as we can.”

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