Controversy in 2022 sparked the NCAA to make marked changes to its 11-year-old transgender inclusion policy.
A near-controversy at the start of current academic year almost tested those changes.
On October 3, the board of trustees at NCAA Division III Roanoke (Va.) College announced that they would implement a final phase of the NCAA policy in the current year instead of in 2024-2025. The policy would then include regulations from national and world sports governing bodies to decide the eligibility of trans women student-athletes.
In a written statement, the board said they made an independent move “to cement our school’s approach to similar requests in the future.”
Originally the NCAA was going to advance to these regulations this year. They chose to hold off on the additions to better study the impact that current policy changes have had on transgender inclusion.
In the current policy, a trans woman student-athlete must be on feminizing hormone replacement therapy for at least one year prior to competition would also be subject to provide data on hormone level prior to in-season and championship competition.
Unlike the next phase that could bar trans women from competing depending on their sport, the door is still open for trans women to compete in women’s collegiate competition.
As students returned to classes three months ago, a transgender woman student-athlete at Roanoke petitioned to swim for the women’s team in the upcoming season. The unnamed student was a freshman on the men’s swim team two years prior.
Roanoke officials confirmed that the student-athlete took a year off to meet the NCAA hormone requirements. The request was brought before the school’s athletic department and the board of trustees.
It was the first such request the college ever received. Officials analyzed the request and the NCAA regulations towards a process of making their decision. As part of the process, the women’s swim team was informed about the possibility, and numerous media reports said the general responses from members of the team were negative.
The student-athlete seeking to join later withdrew their request, yet the school felt they needed to make a policy move of their own, which led to their announcement. In this case, the school’s policy would follow those of
Two days after this announcement, 10 members of the Roanoke women’s swimming team held a news conference at a hotel near campus. The Roanoke officials stated that neither the school nor the athletic department had any part in organizing this event.
The Roanoke swimmers were joined by former University of Kentucky swimmer-turned anti-trans activist Riley Gaines, in addition to representatives from known anti-trans organizations such as the Independent Women’s Forum and the Independent Council of Women’s Sports.
Team members stated that school officials acted contrary to their statements about process.
“My feelings, our team’s feeling and comfort were blatantly ignored,” team co-captain Kate Pearson stated. “We were told that even if our entire team stands together and not swim, our coach would be allowed to have a one-athlete swim team.”
Other team members shared similar sentiments, along with team parents and activists including Gaines and former collegiate swimmer-turned activist Lisa Scanlon, a former teammate of University of Pennsylvania and 2022 national champion Lia Thomas.
The common thread of this gathering was pressure on the NCAA.
“The NCAA needs to put a stop to this nonsense now,” Adriana McLamb, the IWF’s marketing director stated. “Instead of passing the buck, Charlie Baker and the NCAA need to say the buck stops here.”
That sentiment has been picked up by certain segments of the media who have been critical of newly installed NCAA president Charlie Baker for not directly stating a position on the issue.
A group of politicians has also joined the chorus. A group of nine Republican governors sent a letter urging Baker to publicly affirm the exclusion of trans women from the female category in the NCAA.
The letter chides the current policy because of the possibility of another athlete following in the footstep of Thomas, who is still seen with bitterness by some nearly two years after her last race.
“The NCAA has the chance to guarantee an environment where female college athletes can thrive without the concern of inequities,” the letter read. “This policy allows the NCAA to avoid responsibility for ensuring the fairness of collegiate sports – therefore it must be changed.”