Rules formalizing NC prep sports oversight heads to governor

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Legislation that likely will create a formal agreement between the nonprofit body currently governing North Carolina high school sports and state education leaders received final approval on Wednesday. The compromise scales back specific demands previously advanced by legislators that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association fought against.

The House and Senate voted separately for the measure almost two months after bill supporters had announced a deal had been reached. That announcement had followed a meeting with representatives of the association, the State Board of Education, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and legislators from both parties.

There was little debate Wednesday about the final product, which tells the State Board of Education it can reach a memorandum of understanding with a nonprofit — presumably the association — to administer and enforce board requirements for high school sports. The agreement, which would have to be signed by mid-March, would begin next fall and initially last four years.

It says the education board must adopt student participation rules, but can delegate rules on items like school penalties and participation fees to the association, which currently serves more than 400 schools. But appeals must be handled by a panel separate from the association, which also must subject itself to annual audits, conduct open meetings and disclose financial information to the board.

“It does increase accountability,” said Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican who helped shepherd the bill. She added that the final product resulted from bipartisanship and compromise.

The measure, which now heads to Cooper’s desk, comes after House and Senate GOP members scrutinized activities of the association, which began in 1913. They complained about what they called the group’s oversized control over member schools, eligibility decisions and monetary penalties, even as the association has flush coffers.

One earlier version of the bill would have replaced the association with a new athletic commission, its members picked by the governor and legislative leaders. A later edition shifted toward a formal memorandum with the NCHSAA, but group leaders still complained about specific financial and administrative directives, leading to opposition by Democrats. Local coaches and educators also stood up for the association.

The NCHSAA’s board didn’t oppose passage of the final measure, board president Bobby Wilkins said in a statement, “considering the changes to the legislation, and assurances that the State Board of Education will partner with the NCHSAA so that we can continue to serve our member schools.” The legislation say the Department of Public Instruction would oversee sports if no agreement is reached.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 41-7 and 71-43 in the House. Democratic Rep. Raymond Smith of Wayne County, who voted no, called it “one of the most unnecessary bills that I’ve seen” by interfering with association activities.

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