Opinion: The Woodshed

State senators unveil new high school sports reform bill

Organization will continue to oversee high school sports, with reform conditions

Senators Tom McInnis (R-Moore), Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), and Todd Johnson (R-Union) present HB 91 for discussion to the Senate Education Committee on July 20, 2021
Senators Tom McInnis (R-Moore), Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), and Todd Johnson (R-Union) present HB 91 for discussion to the Senate Education Committee on July 20, 2021

The North Carolina High School Athletics Association would continue to regulate high school sports in North Carolina, under a new version of the reform legislation presented and passed in a state Senate committee.

 Carolina Journal has been reporting for months on efforts to reform high school sports and specifically the North Carolina High School Athletics Association. 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.

NCHSAA leaders have defended the organization and called the accusations surrounding the organization “disheartening and infuriating.”

Originally, House Bill 91 Accountability and Fair Play in Athletics, would have dissolved the N.C. High School Athletic Association and created a new state oversight authority.

However, as first reported on July 27, after a contentious public battle, legislators and NCHSAA began working on cutting a deal, but so far no deal has emerged.

Millbrook High School soccer player takes the ball in a Raleigh game spring 2021. Photo by Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

Under the proposal, the NCHSAA would continue administering high school athletics for public schools in N.C. if it agrees to certain reforms. The reforms would be cemented in a binding contract, with the State Board of Education.

“With this legislation, we seek to reform, not destroy,” said Sen. Vicki Sawyer, R-Iredell.

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

The members of the NCHSAA board of directors would have to adopt ethics policies that would require them to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety.

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker and several speakers from the NCHSAA spoke against the new version of the bill.

“I stand as commissioner in opposition of this bill as revised,” said Tucker.

“I am hard-pressed to find many aspects of the bill that put student-athletes first,” said Green Level High School Athletic Director Colin Fegeley.

NCHSAA Assistant Commissioner James Alverson angered some committee members when he said, “It’s hard to work with people who have a gun to your head.”

Among other requirements, 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 one-third of net profits from any state tournament game.

NCHSAA would be required to make the organization’s handbook, rules, and appeals process publicly available at no cost. Board membership of the NCHSAA would also be required to include equal representation from each education district.

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 currently 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.

NCHSAA would no longer be allowed to:

  • Solicit grant funding and sponsorships from third-party organizations except for state tournament games
  • Provide grants to schools regulated by the organization
  • Regulate or control the intellectual property of schools including team logos, mascots, and audio/video of any game other than state tournament games
  • Provide scholarships to players, except when funded by donor-directed funds
  • Designate the use of specific or preferred vendors
  • Retain a percentage of gate receipts for games other than state tournament games
  • Restrict the recording of audio or video of any state tournament game by any parent of a student participating in the game or an employee of the school
  • Retain any portion of money collected from ticket sales, concessions, or sale of merchandise by a school

Perhaps most importantly to many lawmakers, the NCHSAA will no longer issue fines for rules violations. A new independent appeals process will be created utilizing a panel appointed by the State Board of Education.