North Carolina officials: High school sports governing deal reached

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Legislation that would lead to new controls upon the nonprofit body governing North Carolina high school sports has been agreed to in principle, state officials said Thursday. But there’s still uncertainty, as all the details haven’t been worked out.

House and Senate GOP members who have scrutinized the North Carolina High School Athletic Association have said changes are needed to address what they deem is the group’s oversized control over member schools, eligibility decisions and monetary penalties. They have also highlighted the flush coffers of the association, which was founded more than an century ago.

The GOP lawmakers from both chambers said legislators from both parties met Wednesday with representatives of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, the State Board of Education and NCHSAA “to discuss the best pathway forward” on legislation.

“We’re happy to report that after months of examining how best to support our student athletes and high school athletics we’ve come to an agreement,” the Republicans’ statement read. “We believe this agreement will put the needs of our student athletes first, while allowing for a better, more transparent governing structure.”

Senators who initially proposed in July to replace NCHSAA with a new athletic commission passed a substitute this month that would instead tell the association and the State Board of Education to sign a formal memo on how the association would carry out board policy on interscholastic sports. But association leaders chafed under all the financial and administrative directives in the bill, leading to opposition by Senate Democrats.

While the agreement will still require a memorandum of understanding between the board and the NCHSAA, the anticipated bill will be less prescriptive about what it must contain, according to Sen. Vicki Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican shepherding the Senate’s proposals.

Sawyer said Thursday that bill language won’t be finalized for at least a week. It would have to pass both chambers before going to Gov. Cooper’s desk.

“I think we can have a bill that we bring back to you that’s unanimous in support,” House Majority Leader John Bell of Wayne County said Thursday after the chamber voted to start formal negotiations with the Senate on the measure.

The NCHSAA’s top leadership downplayed the announcement. For now, the association and its governing board remain opposed to the bill, association Commissioner Que Tucker said.

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