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Wait, what? NCAA clarifies it hasn’t actually made a decision about championships in states with anti-trans laws

In a new statement, the NCAA expresses support for trans athletes, but is vague on specifics. 

Oral Roberts v Florida
The NCAA has issued its strongest statement yet for trans inclusion.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has taken quite a turn since we first published it this afternoon. The National Collegiate Athletic Association issued a clarification to NBC News that has changed our interpretation of its vague statement that it would only award future championship events to locations where transgender athletes are protected and free of discrimination.

It appears that interpretation was wrong. For now.

Since the NCAA statement didn’t offer specifics, NBC asked a question, which a spokesperson answered with this clarification: “The Board of Governors continues to monitor the situation and has not made a decision regarding championships.”

But that doesn’t preclude the possibility that the NCAA could pull tournaments from states where laws are now on the books banning trans student-athletes. Right now, it’s a wait and see situation.

ORIGINAL REPORT, REVISED: In a new statement Monday, the NCAA Board of Governors expressed its support for trans athletes, outlining its long-standing policy on trans participation.

“Our clear expectation as the Association’s top governing body is that all student-athletes will be treated with dignity and respect,” the statement reads. “We are committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them.”

While the NCAA says it will only host championships in places where “hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination,” it doesn’t highlight concrete steps of action. Four states have passed trans bans into law this year (Mississippi, South Dakota, Arkansas and Tennessee).

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed her state’s anti-trans legislation due to concerns over the NCAA, before enacting her own ban via executive order.

“The NCAA is following its own guidelines and demands from hundreds of college student-athletes insisting on fairness and inclusion for transgender participation,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “Every state debating and passing these discriminatory bills is doing untold damage to young people and to the states’ economies and reputations. The message is loud and clear: These bans are wrong. Choose inclusion. Everyone wins.”

There was building pressure on the NCAA to issue a stronger statement on the highly charged topic. Last month, 545 college athletes called on the organization to pull championships from states with anti-trans legislation.

An NCAA LGBTQ group also recently called on lawmakers to stop anti-trans legislation.

Among those interpreting the NCAA’s statement as a bigger promise than has been now clarified was trans athlete and advocate Chris Mosier.

Out gay high school coach Anthony Nicodemo of New York tweeted this question to our Cyd Zeigler, who offered his interpretation:

Up until Monday, the NCAA’s last public statement on trans inclusion in sports came in June 2020, when it announced its opposition to Idaho’s trans sports ban. The organization, however, didn’t commit to moving March Madness games out of Boise (the point wound up being moot, since the men’s basketball tournament was held exclusively in Indiana due to COVID-19).

Back in 2016, the NCAA moved contests out of North Carolina due to the state’s infamous trans bathroom bill.

The first flashpoint for the NCAA on the trans sports issue will come later this week, when the Women’s Gymnastics Finals are slated to take place in Fort Worth, Texas on April 16-17. The Texas legislature will consider four bills this week aimed at restricting transgender people’s access to healthcare.

Arkansas is slated to host multiple events in 2022. It hosted the men’s and women's indoor track finals last month.