Bill Changing NC High School Sports Oversight OK’d By Panel

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Legislation that would end the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s century-long role overseeing state interscholastic sports cleared a Senate committee Wednesday, despite calls by some to keep the nonprofit in charge, with adjustments.

The Republican-authored bill would create a new North Carolina Interscholastic Athletic Commission that in fall 2022 would enforce student eligibility rules set by the State Board of Education and adopt and enforce game rules and officiating and sportsmanship standards. Private schools also could no longer compete for titles with public schools, which the commission would solely govern.

The bill is the product of lawmakers who say the independent association, which began in 1913, is not using its power to primarily benefit student-athletes and its member schools. They also point to the association having amassed $40 million in assets, even as some schools struggle to raise money for uniforms and equipment.

“This bill is solely about accountability and transparency,” Sen. Todd Johnson, a Union County Republican, told the Senate education panel. “It is what we demand in every single aspect of state government.”

The new commission, composed of nine gubernatorial appointees and eight appointed by legislative leaders, will be independent but sit in a state government department. Separate panels also would be created by the education board to hear eligibility appeals and by the commission to hear game appeals.

Johnson said the current appeals process lacks independence from association leaders making initial decisions.

The bill was unveiled publicly Tuesday, and NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker told reporters later that the proposed commission would inject politics into high school athletics and attack self-governance in sports by its 400-plus member schools. Johnson said Wednesday he highly doubts commission members — composed of superintendents, principals, athletic directors or certain coaches — would put partisanship over student athletes.

Committee Democrats said they appreciated examinations by Johnson and other colleagues that revealed the need for changes at the organization. But they said doing away with the commission was premature.

“Is the athletic association perfect? Absolutely not. I think we’ve shed light on that. Is it worth a complete dissolution? No,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, adding “this proposal brings an axe to the athletic association.”

Johnson replied that association leaders have been uncooperative toward finding legislative solutions. “At some point in time you got to fish or cut bait,” he said.

NCHSAA Associate Commissioner James Halverson told the committee Wednesday the group’s board has made changes recently to benefit member schools financially, including paying premiums for the schools’ catastrophic insurance payments. He said the association finances have been misrepresented.

“The NCHSAA is not hoarding money, simply put,” Halverson said. ”The NCHSAA has responsibly governed high school athletics for the state of North Carolina for 110 years. and I ask you to continue to work with us to improve what we do for students.”

The bill, which now goes to another Senate committee, would have to pass the full Senate and House before reaching Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.

State schools Superintendent Catherine Truitt, a Republican, backed the bill in an email statement Wednesday, saying investigations by her agency and the State Board of Education showed “an overhaul was necessary in how our high school athletic program was governed and structured.” Board Chairman Eric Davis did not endorse specifically the measure in his own statement but said education officials are committed to “transparency, fairness and accountability in our athletics programs.”

Original Story (7/21/21):

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina High School Athletic Association would be replaced by a proposed state commission to oversee interscholastic public school sports in a measure unveiled Tuesday in a legislative committee.

The bill, which received a hearing by a Senate education panel, comes after Republican lawmakers have publicly questioned association leaders this year about the nonprofit’s authority and assets of nearly $42 million as of June 2020. It’s the wealthiest group of its kind in the country, according to legislative data.

Senators say that contrasts with schools struggling to raise money for uniforms and equipment and the fines they can pay the association for eligibility violations.

“The amount of money that’s being sucked from our public schools with no public oversight would not be allowed anywhere in our government,” said Sen. Todd Johnson, a Union County Republican and bill author. “So why are we allowing it in our state athletics?”

The measure would essentially remove the association as the organization that carries out rules set by the State Board of Education. The association would be replaced beginning in the 2022-23 school year by a new 17-member North Carolina Interscholastic Athletic Commission, composed of superintendents, principals, athletic directors or certain coaches.

The proposed commission — with nine members picked by the governor and eight by legislative leaders — could hire a director. It would carry out student eligibility rules already being set by the State Board of Education and adopt and enforce gameplay rules, including the creation of a demerit system that could lead to nonmonetary punishments.

Special panels would be created by the education board to hear eligibility appeals and by the commission to hear game appeals. Johnson said people he’s talked say they have little faith in the current NCHSAA appeals process.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, asked Johnson whether effectively eliminating the NCHSAA was warranted: “This bill essentially renders a death penalty on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.”

The association board has made changes recently, agreeing to take over some expenses of member schools and reduce its cut of some playoff game receipts. But Johnson said association leaders don’t appear willing to go further.

“Had we seen movement toward a shared goal of keeping that student-athlete focus, I do not think we would be here,” Johnson said. “Seeing no genuine effort moving toward that, I think this is more of the appropriate stance.”

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said late Tuesday that the committee discussion represented “a full-scale attack” on the ability and desire of the group’s more than 400 member schools “to govern their own affairs as it relates to high school athletics.”

“We believe that high school athletics in our state should not be a political issue. And when you start pulling away or turning the pages of that bill, clearly there are politics involved in how this new commission … would be established,” Tucker told reporters in an video call. The group remains willing to work with elected leaders to make improvements, she added.

The NCHSAA, which began in 1913, had been connected to the University of North Carolina until it became an independent nonprofit in 2010. Any final bill would have to clear the Senate and House before going to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.

A committee vote could come as early as Wednesday on the bill, which also would prevent private schools from participating in commission sports and championships, as they can now. Johnson said it’s unfair for private schools, which have more control over recruiting students, to compete against schools that largely rely on students in attendance districts.

Home-schooled students could participate in public school athletics at the community school they would otherwise be attending. The state education board would set rules. Some homeschoolers can already play.

The bill says the commission, which would be independent but sit in the state Department of Administration, would be funded solely by fees and state postseason receipts. Annual fees by member schools would be reduced once its account exceeds a certain level. The commission would be subject to state audits.