After historic unionization vote, Dartmouth men’s basketball sweeps its final day of the 2023-24 season

Despite a 6-21 record, Dartmouth men’s basketball will go down as one of the most impactful in NCAA history thanks to its unionization efforts. (Dartmouth Athletics)

The lead-up to the season finale for the Dartmouth men’s basketball team was like no other in program history.

In fact, it was like no other in NCAA history.

With a 13-2 vote taken Tuesday afternoon at the Hanover Inn, the Big Green players joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 560 and became the first college team ever to form a union.

“Today is a big day for our team. We stuck together all season and won this election,” wrote junior forward Cade Haskins and junior guard Romeo Myrthil in a statement. “Let’s work together to create a less exploitative business model for college sports.”

The effort to form a bargaining unit began with the unionization of the college’s food service workers in 2021, according to a report from the New York Times.

After negotiations with the college stalled and the group threatened to strike in Feb. 2023, the administration agreed to a $21 hourly wage, overtime pay and sick pay for COVID.

This result inspired Haskins, who worked for campus dining.

Haskins, along with Myrthil, were connected with SEIU through Dartmouth basketball legend Walter Palmer. The 1990 First Team All-Ivy center, who was drafted in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft, eventually played in Europe and got involved in union activism for professional athletes.

After declaring their intent to unionize in September, Haskins and Myrthil explained the decision was made to improve their compensation, financial protection from sports-related injuries and working conditions.

“[B]ecause 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, the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the (National Labor Relations) Act,” NLRB Region 1 Regional Director Laura Sacks wrote in an order filed last month.

Dartmouth had argued men’s basketball players don’t meet the common law test for employment because the players don’t perform work in exchange for compensation.

Dartmouth had contended it generates no profit from its men’s basketball program and said no indicators of employment like W-2s, I-9s or paid time off exist. The school also contended basketball players don’t meet the common law test for employment because it doesn’t exercise adequate control over them, highlighting testimony that basketball players have missed practices in favor of academic pursuits and not been penalized.

SEIU Local 560 argued Dartmouth men’s basketball players meet the common law test for employment because the players receive compensation in return for providing basketball-related services to Dartmouth and are subject to Dartmouth’s control.

While Dartmouth could appeal the decision to a federal appeals court and the legal story isn’t over,  Haskins told reporters outside the voting site, “We’re closer than we started.”

With the monumental vote concluded, the Big Green welcomed travel partner Harvard to Leede Arena for the 196th meeting in the longstanding rivalry.

Dartmouth finished the historic day strong with a 76-69 victory that snapped a nine-game losing streak. 

In a contest featuring the eighth-rated (Dartmouth) and fifth-rated (Harvard) defenses in the Ancient Eight, the offenses understandably were center stage in the opening 20 minutes.

After a fast-paced half that saw seven ties and four lead changes in the first half, Harvard (14-12, 5-9 Ivy) was up three, 41-38, on Dartmouth (6-21, 2-12) at intermission.

The Crimson shot 57% from two (12-for-21) and 46% (5-for-11) from three, while the Big Green connected on 59% (10-for-17) from inside the arc and 46% (5-for-11) from outside. 

Seven different players scored for Harvard with sophomore forward Chisom Okpara leading the way with 11 points. First-year guard Malik Mack had seven points, as well as six assists.

Not to be outdone, the Big Green had all nine players in the scoring column. Sophomore forward Jackson Munro had a team-high 10 points and five rebounds, while senior forward Dusan Neskovic added seven points.

The Big Green came out hot to start the second half, making four of its first eight shots, but the Crimson was even better. After making six of its first seven shots, including 3-for-4 from long range, Harvard opened up a 56-46 lead at the first media break.

Dartmouth rebounded with a 9-0 run to make it a one-point game with 12:44 left in regulation.

A triple by junior guard Louis Lesmond gave Harvard a 65-60 lead just under the midpoint of the second half, but that would be the last highlight of the Crimson’s season.

Over the next eight minutes, the Big Green tightened up its defense and took control of the contest with a 14-2 run.

A three-pointer by Neskovic from the top of the key put Dartmouth up by two, then his reverse layup made it a four-point game.

When Myrthil, one of the heroes of the afternoon vote, nailed a triple from the right baseline with 1:13 left on the clock, Dartmouth was up seven, 74-67, and the game was effectively over.

In the decisive second half, the Big Green shot 56% from two (10-for-18) and 33% from three (4-for-12), while limiting the Crimson to 43% (6-for-14) from the interior and 26% (5-for-19) from downtown.

Neskovic in his final game for Dartmouth finished with 21 points and six rebounds, and Munro had 14 points and nine rebounds.

In the losing effort, Okpara totaled a game-high 25 points, along with eight rebounds. Lesmond added 15 points on five-for-10 shooting from three (the rest of the team went 2-for-20 from beyond the arc), and Mack had 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Harvard still sits in fifth place in league play, with the chance for a tie if Columbia can upset Cornell on Saturday. This marks the third straight season that the Tommy Amaker’s squad will miss the Ivy League Tournament and the ninth year since the program made it into the NCAA Tournament.

For Dartmouth, the victory doesn’t lift Dave McLaughlin’s team out of eighth place. But it does cap one of the most amazing days in Big Green history.

3/6/24 Update: The Dartmouth record was changed to reflect the team’s final 6-21 mark in the photo caption.