NC athletic groups get education board oversight

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2022

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

RALEIGH — Formal agreements reached between North Carolina’s education board and two nonprofit bodies that already run high school athletic competitions in the state will take effect next month.

The initial memorandums of understanding entered into with the State Board of Education are in keeping with a 2021 state law that sought more rigorous government supervision of interscholastic sports among public schools.

The law followed criticisms by legislators and parents of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association about its athlete eligibility decisions, penalties against member schools and its flush coffers.

“These MOUs bring significant and needed change to our athletic program,” State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis told a legislative oversight committee Thursday seeking information on the memorandums before they begin July 1. “Our goal is to provide the best opportunities for our students and to demonstrate for them that teamwork is at the core of how we manage the athletics program.”

As expected, one agreement was reached in March with the NCHSAA, a group originally founded in 1913 and for decades has been the dominant governing body for high schools.

But the board also entered a similar four-year arrangement with the newer and much smaller Carolina Athletic Association for Schools of Choice, whose members include a few dozen public charter and private schools. The NCHSAA has over 400 member schools, nearly all of them public.

The 2021 law, which also was approved after input from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and NCHSAA representatives, laid out details for a memorandum to administer and enforce requirements for high school sports on behalf of the board.

Those requirements prevent monetary penalties against schools for rule infractions, moving instead to a demerit system that could result in game and title forfeits.

The law says an association must provide annual audits of its finances and “engage in open meetings.” The associations also will defer to an independent appeals board of its decisions on things like gameplay and student-athlete eligibility. The State Board of Education picks the appeals panel members.

Legislative committee members had several questions about memorandum details, including the extent to which association activities will be transparent.

The associations have agreed to broadcast their board and membership meetings so they can be seen by the public, but the board must keep confidential personnel and student records, as well as items protected by attorney-client privilege.

As nonprofits, the associations are not formally subject to the state’s open meetings and public records law that government bodies must follow. That means some association records may be more accessible though school officials than through the athletic groups.

While the legislation addresses financial accountability by the NCHSAA, “we’ve certainly got a disconnect when it comes to access to knowledge and information on how they come about the decisions they make,” said Democratic Rep. Billy Richardson of Cumberland County, adding that athletic decisions affect “children’s lives in a tremendous way.”

Davis said the education board can use its oversight authority to demand compliance with public access provisions in the memorandums. And the board has the ability to terminate an agreement if problems persist — something Davis said he would prefer to avoid for the students’ best interests.

For now, the changes are bringing more light to high school athletics in the state, said Sen. Tom McInnis, a Moore County Republican who helped shepherd the 2021 law through the General Assembly.

“We had some bad habits and we’re breaking them,” he said.