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High school version of name-image-likeness provision shot down by NC Senate


There’s a scene in the classic comedy film "Blazing Saddles" when the town pastor is begging town folk not to take rash action against the newly appointed and highly unpopular sheriff.

He holds up the Bible and begs them to heed its word, but a group of men standing beneath the pastor aims their guns at the holy book and blasts a hole in it.

The pastor turns to the beleaguered sheriff and says, “Son, you’re on your own.’’

That is the situation the N.C. High School Athletic Assocation found itself in just a couple of hours after wrapping up its two-day spring board of directors meeting Wednesday in Chapel Hill.

Among the most important items on the agenda was a proposal to allow high school student-athletes to take advantage of their name, image and likeness, much like college athletes are already doing, by striking sponsorship deals with local businesses.

The proposal was passed by the association's board 15-3. But only hours after that news spread from Chapel Hill, the N.C. Senate added an amendment to Senate Bill 636 stripping the NCHSAA of the authority to grant athletes NIL rights.

That bill now goes on to the state House, and if it passes there, the remainder of its changes will leave the athletic association  a shell of an organization, and high school athletics in the state will  be all but rudderless with no leadership and no rules to keep its member schools and their athletes from bending and even breaking what few rules will be left.

Now that Republicans have a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature, there’s nothing Democrats can do to stop the bill from passing since a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper would be easily overridden.

For the record, I was not a fan of the NIL bill, as I think high school sports should be purely amateur. I was also concerned it was going to cause headaches for coaches.

But state Sen. Vickie Sawyer, one of the trio of senators who have been leading the charge against the athletic association for the past few years, made it sound like the association had committed some kind of federal crime, calling it exploitation of athletes and overreach to pass the NIL.

If that’s true, there are 27 states already overreaching because they have NIL agreements for high school athletes. Among them is North Carolina’s neighboring state of Tennessee.

The bottom line here is anytime the NCHSAA pushes an issue that has the least chance of being branded controversial, Sawyer and her two partners, Sen. Tom McInnis and Sen. Todd Johnson, are going to jump on it, brand it overkill and use it as an excuse to turn the rest of the Republican Party loose on the athletic association.

It’s a shame they are focusing their energies on making the assiciation look bad instead of trying to do something about real problems like access to health care, better pay for teachers and better schools for our kids.

But when your goal is revenge, not rejuvenation, that’s the kind of legislation you can expect.

While the legislators did try to shoot down some of what the athletic association's board did this week, other changes made apparently survived unscathed. Here are some of the major ones:

  • The state basketball playoffs will be modified so a final-four format can be added to the tournament. The regionals and state finals will be combined into a single week of games to be played at a single location. More details will be announced later.
  • The board also voted to create an ad hoc committee to study the financial and operational costs of adding a 35-second shot clock and report the results to the full board.
  • Testing of softball bats will be required. The board approved allocating $16,000 to purchase two bat testing machines for each region of the state.
  • A new advisory committee for high school officials was created to make recommendations to the board.
  • Many schools in the state had already been practicing a policy to end softball games early when the score had gotten out of hand. The board added an official rule that will allow the game to be called if one team is ahead by 15 runs after three innings.
  • The word “tournament” will be eliminated from the NCHSAA Handbook in the sports of baseball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer and softball and schools will revert to a season limit of 24 games.
  • Finally, it was reported that over the past 10 years, the athletic association has distributed $19,249,538 to its member schools.

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Other sports news

  • Fayetteville Academy track standout Kalil Dennison signed a national letter-of-intent to run for Queens University in Charlotte. Dennison specializes in the 100 and 200 meters.
  • A number of former Cape Fear High School wrestlers were recently honored by the University of Mount Olive. Michael Vernagallo was honored for making the Play of the Year. Calan Staub, who qualified for nationals, received Newcomer of the Year honors. Staub and Dallas Wilson were named National Wrestling Coaches of America Scholar All-Americans.
  • Seventy-First multisport standout A’jaylah Yates has signed to play soccer and compete in track for Tusculum University in Tusculum, Tennessee. 
  • Cumberland County is losing a pair of voices who have served for a number of years on the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s board of directors. Troy Lindsey, athletic director at Gray’s Creek High School, and Vernon Aldridge, former student activities director for Cumberland County Schools, both rotate off the board this summer.
  • During Thursday morning’s virtual annual meeting of the athletic association, Jim Butler, principal of Richmond Senior High School, was announced as the new representative of Region 4, replacing Lindsey. Aldridge, who represented the N.C. Athletic Directors Association, will be replaced by Roy Turner, executive director of that organization.
NCHSAA, name-image-likeness, high school sports, N.C. Senate