Lawmakers approve shifting authority away from NC high school athletic association

Ardrey Kell High School, Special to The Observer

The North Carolina Senate and House have passed a bill that takes authority away from the N.C. High School Athletic Association and grants it to elected officials.

Republicans say this bill will provide more accountability to a non-state agency, while some Democrats say these changes are political.

Senate Bill 452 originally was a bill that made various changes to the state’s insurance laws. But during a late night House session on Thursday, Republicans added a new version of the bill that included language from Senate Bill 636, a bill GOP senators filed earlier this year to address longstanding concerns they have had about the association.

Democrats objected to the bill being heard Thursday night and asked that it be removed from the House calendar, but Speaker Tim Moore said the House would briefly be at ease to allow the House Rules Committee to take up the bill and send it back to the House floor.

During that hearing just after 11:15 p.m., Rules Chairman Destin Hall, a Republican from Caldwell, said the bill “will ensure transparency and accountability in the high school athletic association,” which is “not a governmental agency at all. It oversees our public schools, athletics, they have a lot of money, they collect a lot of money from children of this state.”

Hall added that the bill is not “doing away” with the NCHSAA but instead “is providing oversight of that agency.”

The bill ended up passing the House just before 12:30 a.m. by a vote of 67-43, with two Democrats, Reps. Shelly Willingham of Edgecombe and Michael Wray of Halifax, joining Republicans in support. It passed the Senate 43-0 on Friday morning.

Superintendent of Public Instruction gets more authority

Currently in North Carolina, the state’s board of education, which sets policies and procedures for public schools, designates a nonprofit organization to administer and enforce rules for high school athletics.

That includes the NCHSAA, which, to operate, is required to sign a memorandum of understanding with the State Board of Education. Under this bill, the NCHSAA would now enter into an agreement with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, with reporting requirements, audits and stronger oversight. The DPI superintendent is currently Catherine Truitt, a Republican.

If an agreement is not reached with an administrative organization, the superintendent would take charge of high school athletics. DPI did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education would set all student participation rules including ones on academic standards, “biological participation” requirements and medical eligibility requirements. Lawmakers earlier this year passed new laws prohibiting transgender girls and women from competing on most middle school, high school and college sports teams that align with their gender identity. This change affected the NCHSAA, which told The News & Observer previously it would “comply with the law.”

The board would no longer be able to delegate the enforcement of most of these rules to the NCHSAA. Instead, the NCHSAA would report to the superintendent. The association would also largely be unable to alter or expand any rules. The board is made up of the lieutenant governor, the treasurer and 11 members appointed by the governor, currently a Democrat.

The bill would also require the superintendent to create a new appeals board, to hear grievances from students, teachers and participating schools.

How will this shape the future of the NCHSAA?

Brandon Moore, a spokesperson for the NCHSAA, told The N&O in an email that “there are a lot questions that still remain about how this will shape the future of the NCHSAA.”

Moore shared a statement by NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker, who wrote that the bill “was a blindside tackle, and I am sorely disappointed in the actions of our state legislators. Any statement that would suggest that we have not honored our end of the current Memorandum of Understanding is grossly inaccurate.”

“We have seen other state associations dismantled by their state legislatures and ultimately, legislators don’t know what they don’t know,” Tucker wrote. “The NCHSAA is not just an office in Chapel Hill, it is the 436 schools that make up its membership. This bill, should it become law, silences the voices of those schools.”

Moore also wrote that the association and its officers have “a dedicated, full-time staff devoted only to the guardianship of interscholastic athletic competition, including several Certified Athletic Administrators and former public school employees.”

Republican Sens. Vickie Sawyer, Todd Johnson and Tom McInnis, who have sought to elicit more transparency from the NCHSAA, said in a statement Friday that “this bill increases accountability and transparency for a private organization tasked with administering our children’s athletic experiences.”

They said the bill was a culmination of three years of efforts to get materials, financial records and polices from the association related to how it has governed high school athletics.

“Internal documents obtained from the NC High School Athletic Association show it has failed to maintain transparency in the decision-making process, sought to remove parents and students from the process and wants to shield their endowments from public scrutiny,” they said.

During Thursday night’s Rules Committee meeting, Rep. Amos Quick, a Guilford Democrat, questioned the need to reform the laws governing the association, which has existed since 1913 and which he said has done a good job.

“Why does this bill give a lot more power to the superintendent of public instruction, take that power away from the State Board of Education?” he asked.

With this bill and others passed this session “the superintendent of public instruction is either going to have to clone themselves or have a lot more staff to handle all the responsibilities,” he said.

If the bill is enacted into law, it would go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year.