Twice nothing still being nothing, the newly revised version of a N.C. General Assembly bill to reorganize the governance of high school athletics is no better or more acceptable than the first draft.
Granted, the new draft that emerged in a state Senate committee late last week doesn’t call for immediately supplanting the nonprofit N.C. High School Athletic Association like the first one, and it doesn’t bar a quartet of Catholic high schools from competing in the same leagues as public schools.
The “improvements” more or less end there, and as far as we’re concerned, the sooner more sensible elected officials put a stop to this phony debate and pigeonhole the measure, the better.
Chief among the objections we see is that the bill would penalize charter schools like Henderson Collegiate, Vance Charter School and Oxford Prep by forcing them to play a division higher than their enrollment would otherwise dictate.
Bill sponsors openly want to make it harder for charter schools to compete athletically, in practical terms by barring them from 1A leagues like the one Henderson Collegiate’s men’s basketball team has dominated over the past three seasons.
Ironically, many of the sponsors are also charter-school proponents. But they’re trying to quell constituent complaints that charters are able to draw from bigger pools of potential students than many traditional rural high schools can, and thus find it easier to form competitive teams.
There is some truth in that, but it needs pointing out that legislators have intentionally given charter schools a number of competitive advantages relative to traditional K-12 school districts that operate under a much-tighter set of regulatory constraints.
Most of the discrepancies play out in the classroom, but few are as immediately attention-getting as when a charter school’s basketball team beats a traditional high school in the state playoffs. It seems some legislators find the resulting complaints embarrassing, and wish to deflect attention from their handiwork.
Complaints of a different sort — monetary — figure in a legislative demand that high-school sports overseers end the practice of fining schools for rules violations and instead use a demerit system to keep order.
But being fans of auto racing and basketball, we think there’s ample reason to believe demerit systems incentivize cheating. Think back on NBA hoops in the 1990s and 2000s era of arm-to-arm combat, when the six-foul limit meant that if you weren’t committing at least five hard fouls every game, you were letting your team down.
Fines, on the other hand, have a deterrent effect like down-and-distance penalties in football. They ensure that budget-conscious principals and superintendents will quickly take note and intervene if a coach is playing fast and loose with the rules that deal with such things as player eligibility.
And we frankly don’t understand why bill sponsors are so intent on barring whoever operates high school sports from providing college scholarships to graduating players or giving member schools grants.
NCHSAA grants have helped a number of schools, Vance County High among them, keep the books balanced during the pandemic as other revenue sources have fallen short. Yes, to have the ability to make grants, the association asked schools to pay into its endowment when times were good. That’s called insurance — and good management. Meanwhile, the bill’s insistence on hobbling the NCHSAA financially also seems of a piece with the General Assembly’s broader dislike of independent civic institutions, whether governmental or private.
Legislative leaders have proven time and again that they prefer it when other potential power centers are weak and under their thumb, preferably with a few commissars embedded in them to keep an eye on things. We suspect the real reason for the bill is that the NCHSAA’s staff — and its member coaches and athletic directors — are far too independently minded for their liking.