NCHSAA commissioner paints ‘uncertain’ future for state high school sports organization

Robert Willett/

Que Tucker, the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s commissioner, spoke frankly about the past before addressing the NCHSAA’s future with SB 452 now law after Gov. Roy Cooper said he would not veto the legislation.

Any working relationship the NCHSAA and state legislature had is firmly in the past, she said.

“We can’t reconcile that,” Tucker said during a news conference with media representatives Tuesday.

Tucker, the second Black female ever to lead a state high school athletics association in the United States, did not mince words about lawmakers’ past actions, which have included seeking to prevent a school from being disqualified from state playoffs competition per prescribed fighting penalties, and seeking to prevent a student-athlete from being deemed academically ineligible for not meeting prescribed minimum course load requirements.

While such matters “instigated” and “drove the conversation” leading to the landmark legislation, Tucker said, there was more.

“Do I think personal agendas are involved? Yes,” Tucker said, before framing Tuesday’s conference as “not the forum to talk about those.”

“I’ve tried to take the high road,” she said.

Questions on administration

Could education-based athletics be on a road to a “Wild West?” Consider some of the questions Tucker raised Tuesday concerning day-to-day administration of student-athlete eligibility for competition, health, safety, and wellness, and state championships.

“Somebody has to oversee these rules and regulations,” Tucker said. “If we’re not that organization, then there, still, has to be someone. Will there be playoffs? Do we culminate with a state championship?”

The NCHSAA — which was part of state government until 2009 — will operate under an existing Memorandum of Understanding with the State Board of Education through the 2023-24 academic year. If the NCHSAA is to continue as the 501(c)3 non-profit entity administering high school athletics, then, per SB 452, the NCHSAA must negotiate a new memorandum of understanding with the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt for the 2024-25 school year.

Tucker, speaking for the NCHSAA’s 436 member schools said: “We are committed to continuing to operate under the standards of excellence as we have since 1913. This legislation handcuffs the NCHSAA. It handcuffs the means through which the association can raise funds.”

Some possible changes to the NCHSAA

Smaller state championship venues: SB 452 precludes the NCHSAA from having corporate partnerships throughout the school year, or before championship seasons. These corporate partnerships underwrite many expenses for state championships to be held in college and professional venues.

The NCHSAA’s forthcoming expansion to seven competitive classifications (beginning in the 2025-26 school year) likely will require some high schools as state championship venues.

Emergency funding grants disappearing: The NCHSAA no longer will be able to give grants for emergency needs, as it has done through endowment interest returned to schools. In the past decade, the NCHSAA has supported schools ravaged by natural disasters who lost everything, including basic uniforms and equipment, along with a pandemic. The endowment returned nearly $10 million to member schools in the past three school years.

In the early 2000s, the NCHSAA endowment interest covered expenses to provide an automated external defibrillator (AED) for each of its member schools.

Student services programming elimination: The NCHSAA’s student services programming — cultivated largely by Tucker during her time as an Associate and Deputy Commissioner — will be eliminated effectively. After this school year, the NCHSAA no longer will be able to give scholarships to graduating seniors, nor cultivate and implement student leadership development programming (including coach-captain retreats, student-athlete advisory councils, and anti-substance abuse instruction).

Student eligibility and appeals: The NCHSAA, which hears such appeals submitted by member schools on behalf of student-athletes, will be subject to rulings by an external appeals board (whose makeup is unknown currently). Tucker said this appeals arrangement evokes memories of her days playing backyard sports in Rockingham County.

“We just made up the rules as we went along,” Tucker said. “That’s my fear. There will be someone making up these rules as they go along.”

Uncertain future

Tucker, while not discussing details of New Bern’s 2022 N.C. 4A football state championship vacated Monday, referred to the matter as a “litmus test” for what could become the “Wild West.”

“Will we have someone who steps forward as a legislator and tries to get involved in that situation?” Tucker asked rhetorically.

“We’ll have everybody doing something different from Ocracoke to Hiwassee Dam,” she continued. “That’s just a terrible way to govern high school athletics.”

For now, Tucker reiterated, state championships and other student services programming are a “go” for this 2023-24 school year. Tucker said she will continue doing as she has done since 2015 — leading sports programming for “the boys and girls of North Carolina.”

“It’s the front porch of our schools,” Tucker said of education-based athletics. “I still believe that.”