by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
Onslow County incident highlights the need for reforms at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association
I wrote on March 3 about how Senate Bill 52, “Open Meetings/Administering Organizations,” would make the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) more open to public scrutiny:
As a public body, the NCHSAA would be subject to North Carolina’s open meetings law, which “gives the general public a right to attend official meetings of public bodies.” If it did not comply, it would be subject to lawsuits.
The bill would be a welcome step toward providing transparency to a $41 million quasi-governmental organization that wields great power over North Carolina high school student-athletes. That transparency is long overdue
I heard from two senators about why they are sponsoring the bill. Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R – Iredell, Mecklenburg) stressed the need for greater openness from an organization that affects public school students:
The idea is that if a private entity is making political decisions about our schools, athletes, and families, their process should be open to the public… Those types of decisions should be open to public input.
Sen. Todd Johnson (R – Cabarrus, Union) pointed out that treating the NCHSAA as a public entity is consistent with Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, in which the United State Supreme Court found that the state’s high school athletic association functioned as a public institution, at least in part because the bulk of its members were public officials working in their official capacities (page 298):
The nominally private character of the Association is overborne by the pervasive entwinement of public institutions and public officials in its composition and workings…
Johnson said that the NCHSAA may officially be a voluntary organization but, with the power it exercises over schools and student-athletes, “it really is not.”
Sen. Michael Lazzara (R – Onslow) offered an amendment to the bill to fix the legibility appeals process after a student in his district was banned from playing soccer because of how her full-time class schedule was set up.
The need for reforming the state’s high school athletic association is highlighted by the broad bipartisan support the reform bill has in the General Assembly. The Senate approved Lazzara’s amendment 46-2 and voted in favor of the full bill 47-1. It is awaiting a vote in the House.