NC House committee takes up two college athletics bills amidst HB2 shadow | Local Elections

Two Senate bills related to college athletics regulations will get an unexpected hearing in a House committee Tuesday.

The more well-known of the two bills, Senate Bill 323, would make any communications and documents between schools in the UNC system and their athletic-conference affiliations public records.

The Republican-sponsored bill was approved 37-12 on April 25. It is cosponsored by Sens. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, and Shirley Randleman, R-Wilkes.

Senate Bill 335, which would create a commission to study “the fair treatment of college athletes,” passed 49-0 on April 26. Cosponsors of the bipartisan bill include Randleman and Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth).

Both bills will be heard at 8:30 a.m. in the House committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations.

SB323 is linked to House Bill 2, the divisive transgender restroom bill that was repealed March 30 with bipartisan support.

Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, and the primary sponsor of SB323, said during the Senate floor debate that the bill was designed to eliminate any confusion that materials held by public colleges about these affiliations were accessible.

Lee said he had assumed that the communications and documents already were public records. “This just clears it up,” Lee said.

However, a cosponsor of the bill, Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said in March that the records issue surfaced when the ACC and NCAA pulled their 2016-17 championship games from North Carolina in September because of HB2.

“During the debate about college sports organizations’ reactions to HB2, some lawmakers noted confusion about public record access to this information,” said Mitch Kokai, policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation. “It’s my understanding that this bill is designed to end that confusion and clarify that these records are accessible.”

Though SB323 specifically mentions the NCAA and ACC for communications and documents for UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, it would include any UNC System member, such as Appalachian State University, N.C. A&T University, UNC Greensboro and Winston-Salem State University.

Listed in the bill are “documents, papers, letters, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts and other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics.”

The emphasis behind SB335 is what bill sponsors called the “General Assembly’s responsibility” to college students “to ensure fairness and equal opportunity in all aspects of their experience, but in particular when participating in athletic activities” for UNC System members.

The study would focus on the “needs and concern” of student athletes.

The bill was inspired in part by public comments or legal action taken by former student athletes that addressed issues such as: long-term impact of injuries received during collegiate competition; adequate study time during their season; quality of the education they received; freedom of choice in terms of majors; receiving additional financial aid or stipend for spending money; receiving compensation for use of their image in media and souvenir apparel; and right to transfer between schools without penalty.

The Senate pro tem and House speaker would appoint six members each, while the lieutenant governor would serve in an ex officio role. An interim report would be due Dec. 1 and a final report on April 1.

Another athletic conference-affiliation bill is HB728, filed April 10, which would require UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State to withdraw from the ACC if it chooses to “boycott” the state. No action has been taken on that bill.

In the instance that a boycott occurs, universities “shall immediately provide written notice to the conference that the constituent institution intends to withdraw from the conference no later than when the assignment of its media rights expire, unless the conference immediately ends the boycott.”

The bill, however, doesn’t say what would be considered a boycott. The assignment of media rights could take years to reach expiration.

HB728 says the General Assembly would have “the final authority regarding the membership status” of any UNC system member for conference affiliation.

Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for UNC Chapel Hill, said on April 11 that the university will “monitor the legislation should it move forward to determine its potential impacts.”

HB328, filed March 13, takes aim at the tax-exempt status of the NCAA and the ACC. It also has not been acted upon.

The bill alleges that the groups have “exceeded their respective charters by using economic retaliation against North Carolina for the purpose of forcing the General Assembly to adopt social legislation that is not connected to (the groups’) core mission.”

The NCAA said in a statement that “all conversations that we’ve had with representatives in the state have been designed to provide information about our championships process and timeline, not take positions on legislation.”

Although several Republican legislators referred to the ACC and NCAA decisions as a boycott, many analysts and economists said the organizations are private businesses and can hold events wherever they choose.

After the bipartisan-supported repeal of HB2 — with two controversial stipulations — in HB142, the ACC agreed on March 31 to again consider North Carolina venues for future neutral-site championships.

On April 4, the NCAA said HB142 met minimal requirements for the venues to be considered for its 2018-22 hosting cycle.

On April 18, the NCAA awarded 26 neutral-site championships to North Carolina for its 2018-22 cycle.

On April 19, the ACC extended its contracts for eight neutral-site championship events in North Carolina by one year. That included women’s basketball at Greensboro Coliseum through 2023, women’s golf at Sedgefield Country Club (Ross course) through 2021, and swimming and diving at Greensboro Aquatics Center through 2023.