NCHSAA on defense as NC legislature takes shots at hearing

By Dallas Woodhouse

Raleigh, NC – The N.C. High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) has no written contract or agreement with the State of North Carolina or the Department of Public Instruction to oversee the management of high school sports in North Carolina and has the largest cash reserves of any such organization in America.

These are just two of the issues legislators focused on during a more than two-hour investigative hearing into the non-profit governing body that oversees the state’s high school sports programs.

On Thursday, NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker spent two hours being grilled by state lawmakers on the Subcommittee on Interscholastic Athletics, formed to probe the finances, oversight, accountability, and structure of the NCHSAA.

Carolina Journal first reported in March that state lawmakers began a sweeping investigation of the NCHSAA, a move that could lead to changes in how high school sports are governed. Carolina Journal examined a decade’s worth of tax documents that showed the organization was stockpiling cash at an alarming rate, over $41 million.

However, CJ’s in-depth review of the issue showed lawmakers had become extremely frustrated with the NCHSAA for several reasons that had nothing to do with money. However, lawmakers’ questioning focused on finances. A little more than a decade ago, NCHSAA broke away from UNC and became a completely private non-profit. The organization’s assets have more than doubled during that time.

Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell, pointed out that NCHSAA raised some of the costs to member schools in 2018, despite the fact that based on current expenses the organization could operate for nine years if it did not raise another dime.

Sawyer also confronted NCHSAA’s leaders with the information that the organization’s total assets, more than $41 million, outpace all other state associations in the country, and even the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) despite significantly lower costs.

“I think we confirmed a lot of suspicions, and those suspicions are they have a lot of money,” Sen. Vickie Sawyer told Carolina Journal after the hearing. “I heard today that they will think about things, that they may do something, or we see now that this is not the right way to handle it, Maybe. I heard a lot of double talk; I want to see action,” added Sawyer.

Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, told CJ, “I have more questions than I have answers. We talked today about scholarships. Very important. My rural county needs scholarships. And to only give about 40 scholarships, for a total of 45,000 dollars and they have 41 million dollars, is appalling. It is an insult to the poor counties of North Carolina that are paying money in for membership, for insurance, and having their gate money clipped for (pre-season) endowment games, championships games. It is not equitable at all and we are going to have further conversations.”

Rep. Billy Richardson (D-Cumberland) questioned the association about oversight noting, “Essentially, your oversight is yourself,” said Rep. Richardson.

Jerry Simmons, the principal at New Bern High School, who serves as the NCHSAA Board of Directors said the association is accountable to the ‘member schools’ because the board of directors is “made up of representatives from those schools.”

Lawmakers clearly are taking issue with the NCHSAA position that they are a fully “voluntary membership organization.”  Because it is practically impossible to engage in public high school sports without being a part of the organization because of scheduling and assess to state play-off and championships.

No action was taken but Senate President Phil Berger who co-chairs the committee but said additional hearings will be held.

After the meeting, NCHSAA issued the following statement from Mrs. Tucker:

“We want to thank the members of the General Assembly Committee for the opportunity to discuss high school athletics in North Carolina. This was an insightful experience, and we appreciate hearing the legislators’ concerns and open dialogue about our association,” Tucker said. “We believe we accomplished our goal to better inform legislators of our mission, vision, and values. We look forward to continuing this dialogue in the coming weeks.”