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NC Prep Sports Group Must Change In Bill OK'd By State Senate

The organization governing North Carolina high school sports would have to accept financial and administrative changes if it wants to continue in the role under legislation tentatively approved Wednesday by the state Senate.

The measure essentially tells the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and the State Board of Education to come up with a written agreement by mid-October on how the association will carry out board policy on interscholastic sports.

NCHSAA leaders have received the recent scorn of Republican legislators, who say they've heard constitutents complaining about what they consider the association's strong hand on game and eligibility appeals and monetary penalties on schools, even as the group's coffers are flush. The association, which began in 1913 and became an independent nonprofit in 2010, had assets of nearly $42 million as of last year.

“I’m here as a voice for North Carolinians who are afraid to stand up for themselves,” Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican and the bill's author. She spoke before the chamber voted 32-14 for the measure.

GOP senators in July proposed a plan to replace the association with a new state athletic commission, its members chosen by the governor and legislative leaders. But they redrew proposal to retain the NCHSAA after opposition by Democrats and the association's support from its membership.

The new measure demandsthat the “memorandum of understanding” subject the association to state public records and open meeting laws and to limit fees upon its 400-plus member schools. Association game and penalty rules would be subject to public comment and could be blocked by the State Board of Education.

Appeals would be handled by an independent panel. And the NCHSAA could not restrict the recording of state tournament games by athletes' parents.

Despite the bill alterations, NCHSAA leaders still were unhappy with the constraints, saying they were rigid and failed to take into account reforms that the association board had already completed.

There was little criticism of the bill during Wednesday's floor debate. But at least one Democrat complained in a committee last week that it was wrong for the bill authors to negotiate largely with the state education board, rather than also bring in the association, on what the bill encompasses. Still, five Democrats voted for the bill Wednesday.

While defending the negotiations, Sawyer said Wednesday the bill has the “full and entire support” of the education board.

“The association is basically a vendor of services to apply and enforce the state board rules,” Sawyer said. “As such, it would clearly be improper and unethical to allow the association to dictate terms of how those services should be provided.”

A final Senate vote is expected next week. The measure still would have to return to the House for consideration. Any final bill would end up before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who picks most voting members of the education board.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Gary D. Robertson | Associated Press