The NCAA Board of Governors announced Wednesday it’s changing its policy on the inclusion and eligibility of transgender student-athletes.
The change was approved at the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis and aligns the NCAA with the International Olympic Committee’s new framework, which was announced last November.
Blanket regulations regarding hormone replacement will give way to a process where eligibility is determined on a sport-by-sport basis through regulation of individual national governing bodies. If the sport does not have a national governing body, the policy of the sport’s world governing body will be followed.
NCAA President Mark Emmert noted that college sports’ proximity to the Olympics was an overriding factor in the change.
“Approximately 80 percent of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes,” Emmert said. “This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the Olympics.”
The change would have the greatest impact on transgender women student-athletes who would be required to document testosterone limits within four weeks of a national championship competition. Next academic year, the documentation will be required at the start of the season, and further documentation will be needed six months after that. Full implementation will start with the 2023-24 academic year.
The new rules will get an early examination in the case of University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas. She has already qualified for the Division I NCAA Championships in Atlanta in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle events, and has been the target of mounting scrutiny.
Under the new policy, she would possibly have to meet standards set by the International Swimming Federation. The new IOC frameworks don’t come into play until March, which most likely means Thomas will have to be below the outgoing 10 nanomole per liter standard. With the national championship meet scheduled to begin March 16, she would have to have all necessary documentation prepared by mid-February under the new NCAA regulation.
“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” NCAA Board of Governors Chair, and Georgetown University President, John DeGioia said. “It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy.”
Some key voices in this discussion question official optimism. Duathlete, race walker and inclusion advocate Chris Mosier noted the uncertainties of the NCAA process and the regulations of the individual governing bodies.
“This update complicates the NCAA policy in a way that I don’t believe they are equipped to handle,” Mosier emphasized to ESPN’s Katie Barnes. “Given that many NGBs have not created policies for transgender athletes and that policies vary from sport NGB to NGB, tracking compliance is going to be a nightmare for the NCAA. This creates many different standards for trans athletes.”
Three-time U.S. Olympic swimming gold medalist and lawyer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the founder of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, chided the policy change as unfair to cisgender women.
“The new NCAA policy sounds a lot like the old one,” she said in an interview with ESPN. “The board hasn’t resolved the intractable balancing between fairness, playing safety and inclusion.”
The NCAA also revealed their final report from the Gender Identity and Student-Athlete Participation Summit in October 2021. Mosier was among those who briefed participants at the summit, along with the IOC’s medical and scientific director Richard Budgett.
According to an NCAA statement, the role of the report is to “assists ongoing membership efforts to support inclusion, fairness, and the mental and physical health of transgender and non-binary student-athletes in collegiate sport.”