RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina General Assembly, which last year required the North Carolina High School Athletic Association to enter into a contractual agreement to continue to oversee high school sports in the state, once again is considering even more stringent legislation that would give elected officials outside the NCHSAA more control of how your children play games.

The Senate Education/Higher Education Committee on Thursday approved on a voice vote – and returned to the Rules Committee as a prelude to a floor vote – Senate Bill 636, the so-called “School Athletic Transparency” bill.

State Sens. Vickey Sawyer (Right) and Todd Johnson are sponsors of the bill. (WGHP)

This bill was filed last month by three Republicans who seek to move more control of sports to the state Board of Education, which last year entered into a memorandum of understanding with the NCHSAA, which is generically referred to as a “non-profit organization.” SB 636 then directs the Board of Education to draft and administer further rules and requirements for the NCHSAA to carry out.

That 4-year deal began after the bipartisan House Bill 91 was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper in November 2021 and a 17-member board appointed by the governor and the leaders of the state House and Senate, injecting a political perspective in an arena that had been devoid of politics.

But the sponsors of this new bill, three senators who were active in developing HB 91, Todd Johnson (R-Union), Vickey Sawyer (R-Iredell) and Tom McInnis (R-Anson), have 11 more pages of policy and process that build on that original bill, which apparently surprised the NCHSAA’s leadership.

As Sawyer and Johnson pitched their new bill, Rob Jackson of Buncombe County, the president of the NCHSAA board, and Chris Blanton of Watauga High School, its vice president, were wondering why more legislation was necessary now, even before the first year of the MOU was completed.

Why another bill now?

State Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) asks a question about the NCHSAA bill. (WGHP)

“We have had individual and group conversations about the governance of education-based administration of high school athletics,” Jackson said. “Our board represents all eight regions, and we have worked with the state board of education.

“We’ve not even completed our first year, so we ask the group to consider timing. If you have an understanding of change theory or implementation science, some time should pass and then look at change as is merited and how best to do it.”

Said Blanton: “We don’t feel like we’ve been given time. …  I can assure you that nothing has been brought to my attention that we are not following the memorandum of understanding. … I don’t know why we’re here. … Our goal is to work with the state board and to do what our members want to do, have been asked to do and will continue to do.”

Their comments brought questions from both state Sens. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) and Chad Chaudhuri (D-Wake), who asked why there couldn’t be time to study and respond and to see what needed to be done.

Johnson: “There are a number of things in the original bill that we had directed the board to accomplish. … We want to make sure the state board does those things and is not to delegate.”

Sawyer, who had mentioned that the NCHSAA had $24 million in assets and was “the richest high school sports organization in the country,” had noted items such as vendor-specific licensing agreements and distribution of gate receipts from playoffs and other things the board was unable to accomplish. She did not specify those additional items but told Chaudhuri she would brief him offline.

Said Robinson: “I really think it’s unfair to the athletic association, to the people who are here in good faith. … We ought to trust them to do their job.”

One big change

Even though HB 91 had bipartisan support, all of SB 636’s 17 secondary sponsors are Republicans, including three from the Piedmont Triad: Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), Ralph Hise (R-Alleghany) and Eddie Settle (R-Wilkes).

And Settle, in response to questions from WGHP, cited one point that emerged Monday as a concern among those who spoke from the public: transgender athletes.

Senate Bill 631 and House Bill 574, which specify that athletes can compete only with the gender with which they were assigned at birth, have cleared their chambers and crossed for review by the other.

State Sen. Eddie Settle (R-Wilkes)

Language about transgender athletes wasn’t included in HB 91 last year, but Section E in Part I, on the second page of SB 636, specifies “biological participation requirements.” Girls, boys and coed teams would be based on “biology at birth.”

Settle said the bill he is cosponsoring is “simply protection for women and women sports. Males are naturally larger and stronger and should not be playing in women’s sports,” he said. He cited the examples used in pitching those bills in the two chambers, and he said that crossover on those would be this Thursday.

Krawiec and Hise haven’t responded to similar questions.

Sawyer said lawmakers had heard complaints from students and reviewed the NCHSAA’s (IRS) 990 forms.

“This is our second time around, and – pardon the pun – getting the ball across the goal line,” she said. “Fairness with Women in Sports Act [SB 636] … we wanted to align that bill with this bill.”

And that appears the really big change, which sparked a half-dozen speakers – a mother, a psychiatrist, a nurse and a preacher among them, including one who broke out in song. They uniformly condemned that aspect of the bill and begged that it be removed because of the harm it would do to children.

“I hope that we will listen to the people who spoke about what intersex kids need from us,” Sen Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) said. “Let the NCHSAA make decisions on a case-by-case basis rather than establish a blanket rule. Remember these comments.”

Other elements of the bill

Otherwise, the bill is straightforward, specifying:

  • How many classifications high school sports must have (an amendment changed from four to seven the NCHSAA recently adopted), residency and participation and the role of charter schools.
  • Classifications are based on enrollment, and the bill does require that charter and parochial schools play at the next highest classification.
  • Conferences would be based solely on geography and enrollment and grouped by classification.
  • Students would not be able to play sports at a school outside their residential districts if “solely for athletic participation purposes.”
  • Violations of rules would earn demerits that lead to a system of punishment that can include suspensions and forfeits.
  • Any student of a charter-school employee would face a 1-year ban if the Office of Charter Schools determines priority enrollment was awarded for athletic purposes.
  • There are guidelines for handling concussions and traumatic brain injuries and the steps for resuming competition.

And now NIL

The NCHSAA (or any group that succeeded it) would be asked to reduce fees for member schools, take less money from state playoff games, be barred from entering into third-party grants and partnerships, provide no scholarships to players or schools and be subject to audit.

But it’s unclear how this new law – or even the MOU – might embrace the right to allow name-image-likeness income that athletes now make in college and are being considered on the high school level. The amounts for some could be significant.

Just before Just before the hearing was about to begin, news emerged by that NHSAA could be nearing a rule change to make NIL legal for high school athletes.

Although neither Jackson nor Blanton mentioned it, HighschoolOT.com reported that the NCHSAA’s board of directors will consider at its meeting this week a proposal to open that door as soon as July 1.

Rules for NILs among college athletes are generally outlined by the NCAA, but the specifics are left up to state laws. Each university can benefit from outside consortiums to college and distribute dollars to players in exchange for advertising and other endorsement-type enterprises.