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Bill Would Strip NCHSAA of Prep Sports Oversight

Paul Steinbach

Legislation spurred by Republican criticism of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association would strip the NCHSAA of its oversight authority over prep sports in the state and replace it with a state commission.

As reported by the Associated Press, Republican lawmakers have publicly questioned association leaders this year about the nonprofit’s authority and assets of nearly $42 million as of June 2020, making it 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 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.

The NCHSAA board has made changes recently, agreeing to take over some expenses of member schools and reduce its cut of some playoff game receipts, but lawmakers say it's not enough.

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 a video call, as reported by the AP. The group remains willing to work with elected leaders to make improvements, she added.

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.”

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.

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