HL 182 – Dartmouth Basketball Players Play at being Employees

March 19, 2024

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I haven’t closely followed Ivy League basketball since antiquity, when true scholar-athletes like Bill Bradley, Heyward Dotson (both Rhodes Scholars) and Jim McMillian led their teams into the NCAA season ending tourney and even its “final four”.  The last Dartmouth game attended was one where my tiny liberal arts college led Dartmouth by 60 points in the 4th quarter and I was ejected from the stands after loudly berating our coach for keeping his starting five in the game – coming a week after he had done the same thing in a 50-point rout of and at Harvard.

Bill Bradley

Yet, there are some things that I still know about Dartmouth basketball, and they include the self-evident truth that Dartmouth students who choose to play basketball there are not laborers, don’t have to work, and are not employees of that “small college” attended by “those who love it.”[1]

The current Dartmouth team that voted 13-2 to form a labor union and Laura Sacks the NLRB regional director who authorized that vote are attempting to show solidarity with the real and important resurgence of American organized labor.  But pretending that playing basketball at Dartmouth is work is both silly and runs counter to the interests of real workers.

Dartmouth, whose endowment is roughly $1.74 million per student, accepts them on a “need blind” basis and provides financial assistance sufficient to meet the “full need” of every student admitted.  Regardless of whether they play any sport or musical instrument.  Had Lebron Jr. attended Dartmouth instead of USC, his financial grant would have been $0, because Sr. can afford to pay his son’s tuition, room, board and fees.  Any athlete recruited to play a sport at Dartmouth that receives “full boat” financial aid based on need, can change their mind, not play, join the dead poet’s society or just study.  While keeping all the financial aid.

Heyward Dotson

Neither the basketball team nor any Dartmouth athletic team makes money for the school.  All run a deficit, were that type of business assessment apposite.  Dartmouth invests a shitload of its huge financial resources in athletics because it believes that sports – intercollegiate, intramural, and informal – produce better and healthier students and enhance campus life.

The Dartmouth vote to unionize the basketball team not only involves pretending to be laborers, but the pretense that they are similar to athletes playing big money sports in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeast athletic conferences.  Though some athletes at Dartmouth, other Ivies, the Little Three and other similar Division III schools are as good as their counterparts in big athletic conferences, their games are not filling massive stadiums and pavilions and attracting television contracts paying tens of millions for their schools.  Those Division IA athletes are being mistreated and exploited.  But not in the way commonly believed and asserted, i.e. by not being paid a market wage for playing.  Not because a starting quarterback at Alabama does not get annual pay of $2.4 million or a UCLA cornerback $1.3 million as some economists have calculated and advocated they should.  Their exploitation is not receiving the education which is the product their schools were established to provide.

Jim McMillian

Regardless whether, or not, they get a degree, many of these athletes, if not most, only get a tiny portion of the education a full time student should obtain.  Many major in funky and unmarketable “disciplines” and some graduate functionally illiterate.

Athletes in the Power Five – soon to be Four – may be planning for careers as professional athletes, but the percentage that will succeed is miniscule – making that plan something akin to the purchase of a lottery ticket.  But the added lifetime income from actually getting the education that should be acquired in four years is fair compensation, especially when multiplied by the number of athletes in Big Four schools.  Again, recognizing that the vast majority will never make a living as professional athletes and those that do, not only will be well compensated as professionals, but were by and large taught their athletic craft by high school and college coaches.  A fact ignored by those pencil-headed economists.

I hope Dartmouth appeals and prevails when the Regional NLRB determination is reviewed by the full Board and the Dartmouth basketball team is assigned a more appropriate way to honor and support the American Labor movement.  Perhaps by repairing to the Dirt Cowboy Café in Hanover New Hampshire and singing Joe Hill.

[1] Daniel Webster in his argument before SCOTUS in the 1819 landmark Dartmouth College Case.


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