Bill focusing on transparency, NCHSAA’s finances passes through Senate, will go to House

Posted 9/15/21

RALEIGH — It appears that, for now, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association isn’t going anywhere.

But that doesn’t mean things won’t change.

An amended version of House Bill …

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Bill focusing on transparency, NCHSAA’s finances passes through Senate, will go to House

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Bundled in warm clothes, spectators look on as runners approach the finish line at the NCHSAA state cross country meet in January. The two-day championship event, typically held in early November, is one of 17-plus state championship events put on by the NCHSAA each year.
Bundled in warm clothes, spectators look on as runners approach the finish line at the NCHSAA state cross country meet in January. The two-day championship event, typically held in early November, is one of 17-plus state championship events put on by the NCHSAA each year.
Staff photo by James Kiefer
Posted

RALEIGH — It appears that, for now, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association isn’t going anywhere.

But that doesn’t mean things won’t change.

An amended version of House Bill 91, a piece of legislation originally introduced to dissolve the NCHSAA, passed through the N.C. Senate on Sept. 8 by a full vote of 28-14 that was mostly along party lines.

Sen. Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland) was the only Democrat that deviated from his party, while 14 other Democrats voted against the bill, including Sen. Valerie Foushee (D-Chatham, Orange). Eight senators (seven Democrats, one Republican) were absent from the session.

The bill, which is primarily focused on transparency and financial management of the NCHSAA, will bring about myriad changes in N.C. high school athletics if it’s both passed through the House of Representatives and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Under the bill, the NCHSAA would be able to continue its governance over high school athletics as long as it signs a memorandum of understanding with the State Board of Education.

Per the likely memorandum, it would be required for the NCHSAA to adopt procedures comparable to state open meetings laws and public records laws, as well as post any potential rule changes to its website for public comment in an effort to make the association’s processes more transparent.

The creation of the bill stemmed from a months-long investigation by the state legislature into the NCHSAA’s finances, which revealed in April that the association’s total assets, valued at $41 million, put it ahead of all other state athletic associations in the country.

The investigation also called into question the NCHSAA’s endowment fund of $26.5 million and what it was being used for.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the legislation would see the NCHSAA reducing annual fees to schools by at least 20% when the total fund balance is 250% of the organization’s total expenses from the previous fiscal year, essentially limiting the amount of money it could have in the bank at one time.

It would also require that the NCHSAA retains no more than 33% of the net proceeds for state championship events and prevents it from obtaining corporate sponsorships outside of state tournament games.

“We believe that it would diminish our state championships for our student-athletes because of the ways in which we would have to change the manner in which we conduct our championships,” Que Tucker, the commissioner of the NCHSAA, told High School OT in an interview on Aug. 27.

Under HB 91, Tucker and the NCHSAA appear concerned about whether or not the association could make enough money to cover its expenses for its state tournament and state championship events, since most of its championships are held at larger venues — namely colleges and universities — to account for space and provide a better experience for student-athletes. It may not be able to afford those spaces if HB 91 goes into effect.

The bill would also have other financial effects, including preventing the NCHSAA from issuing grants to schools, providing scholarships to student-athletes and fining athletic programs for any form of rules violations.

‘You’re really just punishing the kids’

Charter — and other “non-public” schools — have plenty of reason to be concerned with HB 91.

The bill states that while charter and “non-public” schools will be allowed to remain members of the NCHSAA, in order to do so, they would have to be bumped up to the next highest of the state’s four classifications (1-4A, which are also set in stone under the bill, as no other classifications are allowed to be added).

This means that schools like Chatham Charter and Woods Charter, both members of the Central Tar Heel 1A conference, would have to move into the 2A classification and compete against schools much larger than them.

“That’s going to give us a very, very slim chance of competing with those other schools,” Clint Fields, athletic director at Chatham Charter, told the News + Record on Monday. “We can compete at the 1A level, but you throw us in there with 2A schools, there’s no chance. And the only stipulation of why we’d be in there is because we’re a charter school? Now, to me, that’s discrimination against charter schools.”

Fields said he understood why athletic directors and coaches from some non-traditional schools are getting tired of charter schools — especially those who recruit athletes from around the state — for their dominance in the 1A classification, but all charter and non-public schools shouldn’t be lumped together and forced to play in a higher classification.

As of now, Chatham Charter’s newly realigned conference — which began this year — consists of Woods Charter, Clover Garden, River Mill, Southern Wake Academy and Triangle Math and Science, all of which are charter or non-traditional public schools.

If bumped up, it’s unclear whether the Knights’ and Wolves’ conference would stay intact or if the schools would be dispersed amongst other conferences in yet another realignment, causing potential travel and scheduling issues.

“Those are the types of things that I don’t think many legislators are thinking about because of how they’re lumping all of us into one basket,” Fields said.

According to Fields, charter schools such as Chatham Charter would inherently be at a disadvantage against other schools like Jordan-Matthews or Seaforth simply due to the size of their student populations.

Based on the most recent 10-day enrollment report from Chatham County Schools, Jordan-Matthews’ student population is nearly 900 for the 2021-22 school year, while Fields said Chatham Charter only has around 200 high school students eligible for varsity athletics.

With a student population of nearly one-fifth of Jordan-Matthews’, Fields said it’s unrealistic to think the Knights could compete with the Jets or any team on its level on a consistent basis.

A non-conference game/match here and there is one thing, Fields said, but competing in conferences and postseasons with schools of that size is a tall task for both Chatham Charter and Woods Charter, which would be considered average — lacking any state titles — for most sports at the 1A level.

“That’s not giving those kids a fair opportunity to compete,” Fields said. “You just want to have an equal playing field as much as possible and give your kids the opportunity to be successful. … But if you’re just going to automatically put us with a 2A school and make us compete with them in everything, you’re really just punishing the kids.”

If HB 91 goes into effect and all of the non-traditional public schools are bumped up a classification — most of which are 1A schools that would move up to 2A — another major concern would be the over-saturation of schools at the 2A level versus a lack of schools at the 1A level.

Fields also wonders if a vast majority of charter schools would choose to break away from the NCHSAA to form its own athletic body.

These, among many other questions, are issues that have yet to be addressed by the state legislature as part of its conversations on HB 91 and how it’ll all fall into place if the bill becomes law.

After passing through the Senate last week, HB 91 will now make its way through the N.C. House of Representatives, starting with the House Education Committee. If it passes, it’ll hit the desk of Gov. Cooper, who said in a press conference last Thursday that he already has concerns about the bill.

A three-fifths majority vote would be needed to overturn Cooper’s veto, if he chose to do so.

“It’s just one of those things that’s in the back of my mind,” Fields said. “Right now on a daily and weekly basis, I’m making sure that officials show up, that we don’t have any COVID positives on our teams, that I’ve got someone to work the gate. … Those are my main issues. My main worry each week is making sure I do my job.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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