RALEIGH —State lawmakers have unveiled a plan to replace the N.C. High School Athletic Association with a state commission to oversee public school sports.
The measure, known as revised House Bill 91, proposed Tuesday by a number of Republicans in the Senate Committee on Education, would remove the authority to administer high school athletics in the state from the NCHSAA, and place it under a 17-member commission made up of superintendents, principals, athletic directors, and coaches.
The current NCHSAA Board of Directors is made up of superintendents, principals, and athletic directors and from across the state.
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 often pay the association for eligibility violations.
Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican, said the association has 43% more in assets than neighboring states combined, while fining member schools $400,000 over the past five years, and handing out just $40,500 in scholarships to 35 students per year.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker revealed that the association was made aware of HB 91 first thing in the morning, giving her, the administration, and board members little time to understand and digest everything that is in the bill.
“The General Assembly’s discussion today of HB 91 represents what we believe to be a full-scale attack on the ability and desire of the NCHSAA member schools to govern their own affairs as relates to high school athletics, education-based athletics,” she said later that evening in a video press conference with media members. “We believe that high school athletics in our state should not be a political issue. When you start peeling away or turning the pages of this bill, clearly there are politics involved in how the new commission that they have mention would be established.”
The NCHSAA, now a 427-member organization, has administered high school sports in North Carolina since its founding in 1913.
New Bern High School Principal Jerry Simmons, a NCHSAA past president, said the best thing would be a compromise and partnership between the NCHSAA and the state, versus anything that would look to dissolve what has been in place for over a century.
“I watched the actions of our General Assembly this afternoon and it hurt me, it really did,” he said. “Having served with the athletic directors, principals, superintendents who comprise our Board of Directors for the NCHSAA, I know all of us only want what is best for our student-athletes … and if any of us thought this legislation was best for our student-athletes, we would fully get behind it, but that is simply not the case.”
Senate Republicans have suggested the association needs more oversight and accountability, and the new bill would change the governance of interscholastic athletics,
“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 a bill author. “So why are we allowing it in our state athletics?”
The bill still has to pass Senate committees and a floor vote before going to the House, and then would go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
"This bill essentially renders the death penalty on the North Carolina High School Athletic Association," said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri,a Wake County Democrat.
The legislation comes after a months-long investigation by the state legislature into the NCHSAA, including its authority over public schools and its finances.
Lawmakers have raised concerns about the amount of wealth the NCHSAA has accumulated, with a total net worth of almost $42 million. The NCHSAA, however, says that it has been fiscally responsible, provides a number of services for its schools and
has given back millions of dollars to its members.
In April, the Republican-majority chamber held a hearing to question the NCHSAA, and a separate bill would have required the NCHSAA to be audited by the State Auditor. The topic reappeared Tuesday in the Senate Education Committee meeting.
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.”
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.
There are four private schools in the NCHSAA – non-boarding parochial schools Cardinal Gibbons, Charlotte Catholic, Bishop McGuiness, and Christ the King.
Private schools have the opportunity, like my daughter does, to play in a private league,” said Sen. Sawyer. “This in no way disallows a private school from playing public schools. They absolutely can on a Friday night. … but when it comes to the playoffs, that is only for the public, charter schools.”
Public charter schools would have to play up a division under the new proposal.
Under the proposed legislation, the NCHSAA would continue to oversee high school athletics for the 2021-22 school year, but the commission rules would be adopted by Feb. 15, 2022, and the commission would go into effect in 2022-2023.
“As I think about the change from the N.C. High School Athletic Association to some other organization in a year’s time, and all the work that would have to be done to spin up all of the rules and regulations, and all of the training that takes place, all of the organization of conferences, and the contracts for ballgames, that is a lot of work, and it would cause a lot of change for our schools,” said Dr. Rob Jackson, Superintendent of Carteret County Schools and the Vice President of the NCHSAA Board of Directors.