State Senate Republicans regularly ignore the needs of underfunded public schools, but some of them are moving with urgency to dismantle one dimension of public schools that is well-funded and widely supported – the governance of high school sports.
A bill moving through the legislature would dissolve the independent North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) and replace it with a 17-member state commission starting in the 2022-2023 school year. Nine members of the proposed commission would be appointed by the governor, four by the House speaker and four by the Senate president pro tempore.
Why this would be an improvement isn’t clear, but its potential to disrupt high school sports is.
The NCHSAA has governed high school sports for more than a century. Dissolving it might throw out years of experience and upend procedures for conducting playoffs, addressing rule violations and recruiting and retaining game officials. The proposed state commission could also expose high school sports to political meddling in such areas as conference assignments and disciplinary actions.
Senators push bill
Nonetheless, Republican senators Todd Johnson of Union County, Tom McInnis of Richmond County and Vickie Sawyer of Iredell County have taken House Bill 91 – a measure originally aimed at helping autistic children – and substituted it with one entitled “Accountability and Fair Play in Athletics.”
As the bill’s title suggests, the senators are upset with what they consider the NCHSAA’s lack of transparency about its rule making and penalties and the way it distributes its resources. The NCHSAA has more than $40 million in total assets, making it the nation’s wealthiest high school athletics association.
The association’s extensive assets and the sometimes awkward fit between a private nonprofit organization and publicly funded schools do raise concerns about its transparency and accountability. But overall, the NCHSAA has been a capable organization that has served many generations of young athletes.
As the governing body has come under fire, many have come forward to support it, including the N.C. Coaches Association, the N.C. Athletic Direc tors Association and The National Federation of State High School Associations. Karissa L. Niehoff, the national group’s executive director, wrote last week that the NCHSAA is “one of the most respected associations” in the 51-member group and its programs have been “emulated by other associations across the country.”
HB 91 has passed the Senate’s Education and Finance committees, but still must pass the Senate and the House. Gov. Roy Cooper hasn’t taken a position on the bill.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker told the Editorial Board that her group is open to making changes in response to lawmakers’ concerns, but that will require cooperation, not confrontation.
“We are not a perfect organization. We understand that,” said Tucker, a former basketball coach and a 30-year veteran of NCHSAA, “but we can only do that when people are willing to work with us instead of dismantling us.”
Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat and a member of the Education Committee, said Republicans have touched on real concerns about the NCHSAA, but there’s no need to immediately replace it.
“I think that the decision to completely dissolve a hundred-year-old-plus organization that’s been managing more than 20 varsity sports from Murphy to Manteo is akin to calling the ball game in the second inning, not the ninth inning,” he told The News & Observer.
The senator is right. After more than a century of serving high school athletes, the NCHSAA deserves time to answer the legislature’s concerns, improve its transparency and explain its finances. Providing that opportunity is good sportsmanship – and good governance.