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Sports

Major NC High School Athletics Oversight Overhaul Proposed

high school football
Alexander Schimmeck
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Unsplash

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 do away with the association as the organization that carries out rules set by the State Board of Education. The association would be replaced 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 for inappropriate conduct that could lead to non-monetary 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 and education committee member, 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 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.”

There were few criticisms about the bill in committee. An NCHSAA spokesman didn't respond to an email late Tuesday seeking comment. 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 athletes to become students, to compete against schools that largely rely on students in their 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.

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.