News: CJ News Service

NC high school sports plan signed into law

A high school goalie tends her post at the Millbrook High School versus Broughton High School soccer game in spring of 2021.  Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal
A high school goalie tends her post at the Millbrook High School versus Broughton High School soccer game in spring of 2021. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

Governor Roy Cooper has signed the Accountability and Fair Play in Athletics bill into law.

House Bill 91 is an effort to reform the management of high school sports in North Carolina amid controversy surrounding the governing body, the N.C. High School Athletics Association. The Senate gave their final approval to the measure earlier Wednesday, 41-7. The Senate’s seven “no” votes were all Democrats.

“For months we worked tirelessly to determine the best governing structure that supports our student-athletes and is transparent and accountable,” Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell) said. “After productive conversations with the NCHSAA, State Board of Education, Governor’s Office, and our Democratic colleagues, we’ve established a clear path forward. I want to thank Gov. Cooper for signing this bill into law.”

Under the new law, the NCHSAA will 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.

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 $41 million dollars in assets.

Among the required reforms, the NCHSAA would not be able to adopt new rules without first posting the proposed rules on its website and allowing time 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.

According to a press statement from the legislature, the State Board of Education will adopt rules governing student participation, health and safety, appeals, the administering organization, and reporting, but may delegate the authority to establish rules for penalties, administration, gameplay, and fees. The SBE will also set up an independent appeals process.

Members of the board of directors for the NCHSAA would have to adopt ethics policies requiring 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. Those schools 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, most notably that the NCHSAA will no longer be allowed to issue fines to high schools for rules violations.

“This legislation represents a Herculean effort to provide the best opportunities for our student-athletes, while also setting clear standards for all involved,” Sen. Tom McInnis (R-Moore) said in a statement. “I’m thankful for everyone coming to the table and working to find a solution.”

Under the new law, the SBE is expected to reach a management agreement with the NCHSAA by March 15.