This summer, North Carolina state legislatures introduced a bill that would strip power from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) and place high school athletics under the control of a state commission.
The commission proposed in House Bill 91 would have had the responsibility to enforce eligibility, game rules and conference realignment for all North Carolina public schools, namely excluding private schools. The commission would have been composed of 17-members, including superintendents, principals, athletic directors or certain coaches — with nine members selected by the governor and eight by the General Assembly.
This bill was met with intense discussion, as it had the potential to upend the governing body of high school sports in the state.
Following a revision, North Carolina lawmakers got it right. There are two major factors in this decision: money and politics. Both issues were appropriately addressed, allowing for high school athletics to flourish in the future.
The original bill stemmed after Republican state legislatures questioned the $42 million in assets the NCHSAA held as of June 2020. The money the NCHSAA held onto is unacceptable.
This sum comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when many high school athletic departments are struggling to balance their budgets. Meanwhile, in the midst of the challenging year, the NCHSAA maintained membership fees and levied fines against the school for eligibility violations.
Eligibility violations — in the middle of a pandemic.
Further, in this year's North Carolina high school baseball championships, the chosen host sites were Burlington Athletic Stadium, a former minor league stadium, and J.P. Riddle Stadium, a current community college field in Fayetteville. State-of-the-art minor league stadiums went unused.
These are sub-par baseball facilities that the NCHSAA allowed for their state championships to be held at, a switch from venues at UNC-System schools such as UNC-Greensboro. The decision to play at a second-rate stadium while sitting on $42 million is inexcusable.
The issue, however, with completely abolishing the NCHSAA and replacing it with a commission is politics. Since the 17-member committee would be selected by lawmakers, the process to attain a seat would become purely political.
Bringing politics into high school athletics would be a disaster. The focus would shift from students' best interest to a power grab in Raleigh. We can imagine how high school sports in the pandemic would have become intensely politicalized.
In a HighSchoolOT survey, 86.1 percent of Athletic Directors were against the original H.B. 91 that would abolish the NCHSAA.
While most agreed there needs to be reform, they felt completely abolishing the organization would be the wrong move. One athletic director said, “The NCHSAA needs an overhaul not a death sentence.”
Another agreed saying, “Complete government overhaul is not the answer but I do believe that the NCHSAA needs more oversight.”
This sentiment is backed up by the revised version of the bill. Finances are a major focus of the new legislation. Among the significant changes the proposed legislation would enforce are:
- Reduced annual fees by 20 percent when the total fund balance of the NCHSAA reaches 250 percent of the total expenses from the previous fiscal year
- Prohibit the NCHSAA from issuing fines for rule violation
- The creation of an appeals process independent of the NCHSAA with a panel appointed by the State Board of Education
The proposed legislation now goes back to the N.C. House of Representatives, awaiting a vote that would send the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.
The bill proposes the best reform for the NCHSAA. There needs to be a system where the association is held accountable, while not making the fatal error of leaving high school athletics in the hands of lawmakers.
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