It appears the discussion about the future of the N.C. High School Athletic Association is winding toward a conclusion that will put the State Board of Education, rather than legislators, in charge of working out a deal with the group about rulemaking and finances.
The supporters of a bill that initially would’ve replaced the High School Athletic Association wholesale announced last week that an agreement had been reached on giving the state board authority to work out a memorandum of understanding with the group instead.
Additional details about what will end up in the final bill remain pending, and it’s not certain that the association itself is actually on board yet.
For us, the devil is in those details, so it’s unfortunate that Gov. Roy Cooper’s staff signaled that he’ll be fine with the deal as long as the bill’s final draft reflects their understanding of the compromise that’s taken shape in private negotiations.
As there are some things that should render a deal unacceptable whether they’re the result of legislative fiat or an agreement between the State Board of Education and the NCHSAA, we’d rather that Cooper and his aides have kept their powder dry.
Chief among them is the possibility of forcing charter schools to play one division higher than their enrollment would otherwise dictate. If that happens, local programs like Vance Charter and Oxford Prep would have to play as 2A schools, even though they’re manifestly 1A in terms of their competitiveness.
The “up one” push is a reaction to the success charter-school sports programs like Henderson Collegiate’s men’s basketball team have experienced in the 1A playoffs.
Some traditional K-12 high schools from small counties or cities complain that charter schools by definition can draw players from a larger geographic area than they can, putting them at a lasting competitive disadvantage.
They’re not necessarily wrong, but the up-one proposal, being a one-size-fits all solution, is going to wind up hurting more schools and kids than it will help should any version of it take effect.
We’re just as opposed to the idea some legislators are pushing to eliminate the NCHSAA’s ability to impose fines on member schools for breaking its rules.
Fines are a necessary enforcement tool, one that ensures that principals, headmasters and school superintendents will pay attention to rule-breaking by teams and coaches. The countering notion, some sort of demerit system, would only encourage cheating up to the point its more serious penalties kick in.
As any basketball coach knows, if you have fouls to give, you give them. Schools and coaches will take advantage of any wiggle room an enforcement regime gives them when it comes to matters like recruiting and on-field deportment. But here we prefer a football metaphor: Stiff, tangible penalties encourage coaches to teach their teams to go about their business the right way and avoid mistakes.
Finally, we’re not keen on any outcome that kneecaps the association financially.
We understand the arguments some legislators make about letting schools keep more of their money. But there are good reasons too for having a well-funded, independent organization out there that can backstop schools in times like these. Local school boards aren’t necessarily able to be that backstop in the athletic arena, and we are very skeptical that the state government would be willing to assume that role.
And this legislature in general, not just on this issue, has shown time and again that it dislikes independent institutions. Whether it’s schools, agencies, local governments or nonprofits, it seems to prefer having civic organizations under its thumb. Hitting the NCHSAA’s finances is a means to that end, among any others.
In all of this, it’s worth bearing in mind that the NCHSAA is a membership organization. It doesn’t have a monopoly on the oversight of high school athletics today, as private schools mostly work with the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association. And there have been other competing organizations in the past that eventually merged into the NCHSAA. We suspect if the complaints legislators are acting on were widely shared, rather than isolated, there would be a splinter movement among high schools. That there isn’t is telling.