The North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s spring Board of Directors meeting is always eventful – but perhaps never more so than this year.
Both during and after the meeting.
The two-day meeting held Tuesday and Wednesday generated its share of headlines – complemented by state legislative action taken immediately after the meeting in the latest attempt by a trio of state senators to strip the NCHSAA of much of its current governance of high school athletics.
NIL debate heats up: The item garnering the most attention came Wednesday as the Board of Directors approved the adoption of a Name, Likeness and Image (NIL) policy for student-athletes.
The new guidelines would go in effect July 1 and would allow state athletes to engage in certain commercial activities to receive tangible benefits. Under the policy, student-athletes could publicize their name, image and likeness through appearances, athlete-owned brands, autographs, camps and clinics, group licensing, in-kind deals, instruction, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), product endorsements, promotional activities and social media.
School personnel could not use NIL as a means for recruitment or enrollment, nor could any school personnel facilitate deals or act as an agent or marketing representative. Student athletes, parents/legal guardians, coaches, athletic directors and principals must complete the NFHS Name, Image and Likeness Course annually prior to the first contest to participate in NIL practices.
Student-athletes are also prohibited from affiliating their NIL with products such as adult entertainment, alcohol, cannabis products, controlled substances, firearms and ammunition, gambling, prescription pharmaceuticals and tobacco, vaping or other nicotine related products. Athletes are also prohibited from affiliating with member schools, conferences, PSU, NCHSAA or NFHS.
“There were two words that were talked about often by our board as we considered the NIL policy, and even prior to that as we had a committee working to bring a policy forward for consideration. Those two words were opportunity and training,” said NCHSAA President Rob Jackson. “Certainly, we had a conversation around wanting to ensure our students have the opportunity to utilize their name, image and likeness because it is theirs and we don’t want to deny students opportunities before them. In fact, we want to give them every opportunity as we possibly can.
“That second piece, training, is extremely important. We have to train superintendents, we have to train principals, we have to train athletic directors and coaches but we also have to train parents because this is a new frontier for all of us.”
The ink was barely dry on that new policy, though, when North Carolina senators Tom McInnis, Vickie Sawyer and Todd Johnson modified an existing bill, Senate Bill 636, to prevent the NCHSAA from implementing the NIL guidelines. The rewritten bill would also take nearly all rule-making ability away from the NCHSAA and give it to either the State Board of Education or the State Superintendent of Education.
The Senate approved the bill late Wednesday 30-20 in a vote fully along party lines. The bill, which could dramatically alter how high school sports are run in the state, now goes to the House.
Classifications, conferences: NCHSAA member schools recently approved a proposal that would cap the number of schools in any classification to 64. This would mean that in the next realignment of schools, seven classifications would be needed as opposed to the four classes now in use.
The proposal, though, offered little detail as to how the 64-team classes should be structured, how conferences and playoffs will work and so on. Jackson said the board decided to form a committee to work through all of those questions.
“There are a lot of logistical questions that have to be answered,” Jackson said. “And so I appointed a committee of board members and asked the High School Athletic Association staff, our commissioner’s staff, to appoint outside persons who would be able to help guide that work to begin to answer questions or provide guidance to the answer of those questions, like conference setup, the way we’re going to go forward into playoffs prior to our realignment.
“When we actually look at our numbers to begin the real net process in terms of how we’re going to classify schools, we know that we’re limited in the classification. But as our staff pointed out, we could start the classification from top down, largest to smallest, or bottom up, smallest to largest, or start in the middle and simply have even numbers of classifications which leaves a little opportunity in case we have member schools (added) during the course of a realignment.
“So lots of logistical questions exist as we’re just beginning this journey. I love the change simply because it came from our member schools across the state. It was voted on by our member schools across the state, and it is the perfect example of what being a member-driven organization, where local schools in local communities across our state are making the decision that’s best for them, locally, as opposed to making a decision at one central location and then pushing that across the state.”
Final Four, shot clock study: The board voted to adopt a Final Four concept beginning next season for boys and girls basketball. This means that the regional finals and state championship games will all be held at a single site in 2024. The board also approved the Review and Officiating Committee’s recommendation to form a committee to investigate the financial and operational costs of adopting a 35-second shot clock. NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said she expects a report from that committee at the Board of Directors meeting in December.
Softball bat testing: Mandatory bat testing was approved for softball. The Sports Committee recommended instituting the bat testing procedures, and the Finance and Personnel Committee recommended allocating $16,000 to purchase two testing machines for each region. The board also approved a game-ending rule for softball that would terminate a game when one team has a 15-run lead at the conclusion of three innings.
Schedule change: The board approved the elimination of tournament language in the NCHSAA Handbook in baseball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer and softball to revert the season to a 24-game limit.
Tennis playoffs to be seeded: The board approved the use of MaxPreps RPI rankings for seeding automatic qualifiers and determining wild cards in dual-team tennis playoffs beginning with the 2023-24 sports season.