News: The Woodshed

High school sports reform passes state Senate

Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, speaks on H.B. 91 on the floor of the N.C. Senate September 8, 2021.  Image from ncleg.gov livestream
Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, speaks on H.B. 91 on the floor of the N.C. Senate September 8, 2021. Image from ncleg.gov livestream

The N.C. Senate has given final approval to HB-91, Accountability and Fair Play in Athletics, an effort to reform high school sports in North Carolina. The Senate approved the measure, 28-14, on its third and final reading. Both votes passed with bi-partisan support. Five Democrats voted in support of the measure.

“Members, I ask you to vote in support of this legislation so we can redirect our student-athletes and make them the focus and not the money-making machine they have become,” said bill sponsor Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell.

“I brought with me a football helmet,” said Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, with a helmet from Richmond County High School displayed prominently on his desk.

“This helmet represents each one of our student-athletes in North Carolina. This is about the student-athletes. This is about the poor kids I represent down in Anson County. The Friday night lights are what they live for. The Friday night lights are the reason they are in school to begin with, otherwise, they may be on another path that would be less than stellar for their future.”

The N.C. High School Athletics Association, or NCHSAA, would continue to regulate high school sports in North Carolina, but only if it agrees to a list of reforms. The reforms would be cemented in a binding contract, with the State Board of Education. The organization has vocally opposed the legislation.

The measure now moves to the House. Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, who was on the joint committee that examined this issue told CJ he was “hopeful “about the bill’s prospects in the House.

Carolina Journal has been reporting for months on efforts to reform high school sports. CJ wrote in-depth about how we got here, and it was not just because the NCHSAA has amassed an astonishing $41 million dollars in assets.

Among the required reforms, the NCHSAA would not be able to adopt new rules without first posting the proposed rule on its website and allowing for public comment. The association would also have to comply with open meetings laws and public records laws. The organization would also now be audited by the state.

Members of the board of directors for the NCHSAA would have to adopt ethics policies that would require them to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety and must ensure that board membership reflects equal representation from each education district.

The NCHSAA would have to lessen the financial burden on its member schools. Annual fees to schools would be reduced by 20% and NCHSAA could not collect more than a third of net profits from any state tournament game. The organization’s handbook, rules, and appeals process NCHSAA would be required to make publicly available at no cost.

Charter and non-public schools can continue participating in the NCHSAA, but they would be bumped up a classification. This provision is a huge sigh of relief for the four private schools that are members of the NCHSAA, Bishop McGuinness, Cardinal Gibbons, Charlotte Catholic, and Christ the King who would have been prevented from participating in the new public-school league in the original legislation. The NCHSAA would be forced to scrap a newly created formula for determining classifications and return to basing classification solely on the number of students at each school.

More rules and reforms included in the measure are available here, but perhaps most important to many lawmakers, the NCHSAA will no longer issue fines for rules violations.