The Dartmouth Men’s Basketball team voted 13-2 in favor of becoming the first-ever labor union for college athletes on Tuesday afternoon.

The vote could present a huge shakeup to the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s (NCAA) model, which currently only allows college athletes to financially benefit from their role on teams through name, image and likeness.

The National Labor Relations Board paved the way for the union vote on Feb. 5, after Regional Director Laura Sacks ordered an election for the team.

“Because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, I find that the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the [National Labor Relations] Act,” Sacks said in a statement.

Dartmouth has pushed back against the ruling, filing an appeal to postpone the election or impound the ballots. In the motion, which is pending with the NLRB, the university argued that the athletes are “students first and athletes second,” and participate in college basketball to further their educational aims, like all students who participate in any recognized extracurricular activity.

Cornell Sports Law Professor Michael L. Huyghue called the classification of college athletes as regular students a “mockery,” because it neglects the millions of dollars that colleges are paid for television contracts, marketing rights and ticketing sales.

“We’ve just reached a point where the anti-trust laws are suggesting universities don’t have a right to capitalize on all that revenue,” said Huyghue.

Dartmouth still has five days to file an objection to the union election, and the decision by the NLRB can be appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court.

“Unionization is not appropriate in this instance,” Dartmouth wrote in a statement to NBC News. “The costs of Dartmouth’s athletics program far exceed any revenue for the program.”

But Huyghue said the mere fact that an employer has not been successful in generating revenue does not mean its employees don’t have a right to unionize.

Dartmouth Big Green players
Dartmouth Big Green players huddle during a game on February 16, 2024, in New York City.Adam Gray / Getty Images

The push for the team to be recognized as a union was started by Dartmouth men’s basketball players Cade Haskins and Romeo Myrthil, who told NBC News Now they had to take on jobs to sustain their finances while also being student-athletes.

“We don’t get a stipend or any type of benefit for being athletes even though we are working like full time jobs basically by being on the team,” Haskins said.

This isn’t the first time a college athletics team has made a bid to be recognized as employees. In 2014, Northwestern University’s football team sought union status from the NLRB.

Although a union election was held, the ballots were destroyed because the NLRB ruled the following year that the prospect of union and nonunion teams in college sports could create competitive imbalances on the field.

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