News: The Woodshed

State’s education leader endorses sports overhaul as legislation advances

NC High School Athletics Association mounts massive effort to block their dismantling

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

Legislation to dismantle the North Carolina High School Athletic Association passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday by what appeared to be a unanimous voice vote. The post committee substitute for House Bill 91 proposes to end the private non-profit NCHSAA role in managing and regulating high school sports in the state and set up a new, appointed commission of coaches, athletic directors, and school administrators housed under the state Department of Administration. The bill earned the endorsement of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt.

The N.C. Senate Education/Higher Education Committee passed by unanimous voice vote the PCS for HB 91 on Wednesday July 21, 2021.

“This legislation ensures both transparency and accountability in public schools’ athletic programs while proposing some major changes to ensure students remain the focus,” Truitt told Carolina Journal. “Through the investigative work done by the Department and State Board, it’s obvious an overhaul was necessary in how our high school athletic program was governed and structured. From the hefty fines levied from families and schools to the lack of scholarships provided, our students deserve better. We owe them a system that supports them, their families, and the coaches who work so hard to teach and lead them.”

The NCHSAA held a press conference on Tuesday defending the organization and questioned the political motivations of those involved in the legislative effort. NCHSAA Assistant Commissioner James Alverson spoke to the committee in person Wednesday about the NCHSAA’s large cash reserves, which has drawn criticism because the funds come from donors but also from often financially strapped public high school athletic programs. Alverson told committee members that the non-profit currently has approximately $36.4 million in assets they are responsibly managing for the best interests of current and future student-athletes.

“The restricted funds were $15.8 million, given by donors for specific purposes,” he said. “There is a board-designated endowment fund for $10.7 million. Four of that has been spent, given back to the member schools of the state of North Carolina. The remaining is undesignated, 13.9 million and it includes two years of operating funds,“ said Alverson.

“The NCHSAA is not hoarding money,” he continued. “The NCHSAA has responsibly governed high school athletics in the state of North Carolina for 110 years, and I ask you continue to work with us to improve what we do for students.”

The legislation to replace the organization and move it back under state control came after a months-long investigation into the non-profit during which legislators say they got little cooperation or communication from the NCHSAA. Their investigation determined that there was little oversight for the organization and the organization has built the largest cash reserve of any high school sports governing body in the country.

They also received complaints that the NCHSAA forces schools to contract with more expensive “preferred vendors,” spends very little of its funds on scholarships for student-athletes, and takes a heavy-handed approach with schools with excessive fines. Parents across the state have also complained bitterly to lawmakers about an unjust student eligibility appeals process, where the same people who make a ruling sit in judgment on appeals.

Meanwhile the NCHSAA is working to marshal its supporters to defend the organization, as reported by High School OT, the organization sent an alert to all of its 400+ members schools saying in part:

“We are asking you, if you believe in the mission and impact of the NCHSAA on high school athletics in this state to contact the members of the Senate Committee on Education/High Education and tell them how you feel about the NCHSAA…. They outlined information that led to their conclusions, much of it out of context or designed to paint the NCHSAA, a membership-guided organization, in the most negative light possible.”

Wake County Public Schools’ Director of Athletics tweeted

The National Federation of State High School Associations released a letter in support of NCHSAA.

“In its current structure, the NCHSAA Board of Directors makes decisions that are fair and equitable for the majority of student-athletes in its 427 member schools,” wrote Federation President Dr. Karissa Niehoff.  “We believe that a state government commission empowered to run education-based sports would have different and less educationally sound motives. For the benefit of the 200,000 participants in high school sports in North Carolina, we believe the NCHSAA, and its Board of Directors are best served for directing these vital programs for high school student-athletes.”

The Senate legislation is likely to have an additional committee meeting before being sent to the Senate floor for consideration.