Other voices: NCHSAA can be saved

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Small-government Republicans in Raleigh have a super-sized addiction to irony.

The more they preach the gospel of reducing the size of government, the more humongous and overbearing they seem to make it.

So far, they’ve poked their noses into local tree-cutting and civil rights ordinances, the fates of local statues and memorials, various and sundry issues on individual UNC System campuses, public notice advertising in newspapers, and school board and city council elections, to name only a few.

Now, some of them are hell-bent on dissolving the N.C. High School Athletic Association and replacing it with a new state commission appointed by politicians.

This overwrought and underthought “solution” to an exaggerated crisis is a monumentally bad idea.

High school sports have challenges enough without adding politics to the mix.

Yet here they go again.

To hear some Raleigh Republicans tell it, they are coming to the rescue. They say the NCHSAA, which has existed for more than 100 years, is broken — and only they can fix it.

But first they must destroy it.

So a GOP-sponsored House bill now being considered in the state Senate would create a new North Carolina Interscholastic Athletic Commission to replace the NCHSAA.

Targeted to begin in 2022, the new entity supposedly would be independent even as it is tethered to partisan politics. The governor would appoint nine of its 17 members, the legislature eight.

The commission would enforce student eligibility rules set by the State Board of Education and set and enforce game rules, as well as officiating standards. The bill also bans private schools from competing for titles with public schools.

As for what’s wrong with the NCHSAA as it is, critics say it no longer serves the best interests of high school athletes and member schools.

For one thing, they say, the NCHSAA, which is based in Chapel Hill and whose membership totals more than 400, has too much money.

They point to its more than $40 million in assets (more than any other high school athletic association in the nation) and wonder why more of that money isn’t invested back into member schools.

It’s a fair question. So are concerns that the organization, which primarily serves public schools, could be more accessible and transparent.

Still, this doesn’t mean the best solution is to blow it up and start over.

As Rep. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, told The Associated Press last week, the NCHSAA is not without its issues. But that hardly justifies pulling the plug on it.

“Is the athletic association perfect?” Chaudhuri said. “Absolutely not. I think we’ve shed light on that. Is it worth a complete dissolution? No.”

Among the defenders of the NCHSAA is the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, Dr. Karissa Niehoff.

In a column posted last week, Niehoff cited the NCHSAA as “one of the most respected organizations” in the nation.

She adds: “In its current structure, the NCHSAA Board of Directors makes decisions that are fair and equitable for the majority of student-athletes in its 427 member schools. We believe that a state government commission empowered to run education-based sports would have different and less educationally sound motives.”

The N.C. Athletic Directors Association and N.C. Coaches Association also have stepped forward to vouch for the NCHSAA.

Since its founding in 1913 by UNC-Chapel Hill professor Louis Round Wilson, the NCHSAA has undergone a number of significant changes.

It did not include predominantly African-American schools in its membership until 1971. (Now its commissioner, Que Tucker, is a Black woman.)

It was affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill until 1976, when it became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

It has expanded and shuffled school classifications many times.

Which is to say, the organization is capable of evolving and improving.

But, again, to demolish the NCHSSA lock, stock and barrel, is like knocking down your entire house because the roof leaks.

Repairing the NCHSAA calls for hammers and nails, not a wrecking ball.

— Winston-Salem Journal