By Dallas Woodhouse
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — In its latest hearing into the N.C. High School Athletic Association, the private nonprofit that governs and manages most aspects of High School Sports, prominent education leaders said they have many of the same concerns as legislators.
Carolina Journal has been following the movement to reform High School Athletics in North Carolina for more than two months.
NCHSAA leaders have defended the organization and called the accusations surrounding the organization “disheartening and infuriating.”
N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt testified at the latest hearing and said she and DPI Chair Eddie Davis had concerns about the finances of NCHSAA, as well and transparency, accountability, and oversight.
“The information this committee has uncovered is very eye-opening and concerning to both me and the chair of the state board,” Truitt said. “It seems to us that the High School Athletic Association is flipped upside down from what its true purpose should be, which is supporting students. Our concerns are the same concerns that many of you in this room share. First, the shocking amount of money that the association has in its coffers, along with the question of how the money is being spent and on what?”
“What is really happening with relationships with preferred vendors?” Truitt asked. “Why is there little to no oversight on a multimillion-dollar operation that has propped up primarily by taxpayers? Why is there such a lack of transparency from this organization? And are we really doing what is best for the student-athletes and their families?”
Former State Board Chair Buddy Collins said the NCHSAA perplexed him the entire time he was on the State Board of Education.
Collins at the time said he was concerned that NCHSAA had amassed $13.5 million, and while the law allowed DPI to designate an organization to enforce the board’s rules, that was almost never done. NCHSAA, now with $41 million of assets, was creating and enforcing the rules with no written agreement on how that should be done.
“I made several inquiries as to the nature of that relationship,” he said. “But there was no real contract, there was no real memorandum of understanding, and there was really no explanation as to how money that was accumulated during the time the agency was affiliated with the university system was transferred to the 5013-c.”
Lawmakers have pointed out the NCHSAA is granted protection through the State Tort Claims Act, which provides legal protections to the organization, as if it were a state agency while having no substantive oversight from the state.
Lawmakers are concerned the organization has built the largest cash reserve of any high school sports governing body in the country, forces schools to contract with higher costing “preferred vendors,” spends very little of its funds on scholarships for needs student-athletes, and takes a heavy-handed approach with schools with excessive fines.
“We have done an extensive amount of study and can only find where those scholarships are in the range of approximately 35 individuals and approximately 35,000 to $40,000 on an annual basis, which I find absolutely appalling,” said Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond.
Melissa Merrill, chairman of the Union County School Board, said local school boards have been shut out of oversight of athletics. She echoed lawmakers’ concerns of how issues of eligibility and hardship cases for student-athletes are handled. Lawmakers are expressed numerous concerns about a general lack of transparency with NCHSAA and a lack of due process for athletes.
Merrill explained how different appeals are handled compared to how local elected bodies handle personnel or other controversial issues.
“Mrs. Que Tucker (NCHSAA director) is allowed to sit on the first decision, the second decision, and the third decision, which is absolutely not the case as an elected official,” said Merrill.
“If there’s anything I would recommend today (it) is that local school boards should have more involvement and engagement and authority, and maybe our appeals process works better.”
Unlike last time, NCHSAA officials weren’t invited to participate in this latest hearing. Lawmakers concluded the hearing by making clear they intend to move toward drafting legislation to overhaul the entire system of governance and oversight of high school sports, without indicating exactly what that may look like.