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NCAA won’t immediately adopt USA Swimming’s trans policy, opening up door for Lia Thomas

Thomas can now compete in the NCAA championships, provided she falls in line with pre-existing NCAA rules.

The NCAA decision against adopting USA Swimming’s elite athlete policy give Lia Thomas a clearing path to compete at NCAA Division I nationals in March
Karleigh Webb

The NCAA has decided against implementing USA Swimming’s revised policy to determined eligibility for trans women student-athletes. The decision opens an opportunity for Penn swimmer Lia Thomas to compete in next month’s NCAA Division I championships in Atlanta.

On Feb. 1, USA Swimming announced a new transgender policy for elite-level athletes. The national governing body calls for a 5 nanomole-per-liter serum testosterone limit that must be maintained for 36 months before eligibility is granted.

NCAA will revert back to its original plan as part of the policy change announced Jan. 19. Thomas’ eligibility for the national championships will be determined by the now-outgoing International Olympic Committee serum testosterone standard of less than 10 nanomoles per liter.

She must show documentation proving she’s met the standard by Feb. 21. According to records from the University of Pennsylvania submitted to the NCAA, Thomas has been on hormone replacement therapy since May 2019.

In a written statement, the NCAA said USA Swimming’s policy “could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships”.

Schuyler Bailar, the first transgender student-athlete to compete in NCAA Division I, was among more than 300 former and current college and elite-level swimmers who signed an open letter to the NCAA supporting Lia Thomas
Schuyler Bailar by Sydney Claire Photography @sydneyclairephotography

The decision came a few hours after a group of more than 300 current and former elite and collegiate-level swimmers, including former Harvard swimmer Schuyler Bailar, the first transgender student-athlete to compete at the Division I level, and 2020 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Erica Sullivan, sent an open letter to the NCAA in a show of support for Thomas. They argued the NCAA shouldn’t adopt USA Swimming’s policy.

Transgender athlete and advocate Chris Mosier agreed with the NCAA’s reversal.

“I’m happy to see the NCAA acknowledge that implementing additional policy changes at this time would have unfair and detrimental impacts on student-athletes who are currently competing,” he told ESPN’s Katie Barnes. “The next step is for the NCAA to establish a process for reviewing, modifying as needed, and implementing these policies by a specific date each academic year to prevent further reactionary policy changes in the future.”

But not all were in agreement. U.S. Olympic triple-gold medalist and Women’s Sports Policy Working Group founder Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who’s expressed her opposition to Thomas competing on the women’s team, expressed her disappointment with the decision.

“Once again, biological women’s cry for fair sports competition has gone unheard,” Hogshead-Makar told ESPN. “If you re-read the NCAA’s statement, biological women’s interests were never considered. They were never mentioned.”

Hogshead-Makar had sent a letter written on behalf of 16 members of the Penn swim team to the Ivy League arguing the NCAA shouldn’t challenge USA Swimming’s transgender policy. The letter says Thomas “holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category”.

Lia Thomas has a secured place in next month’s NCAA championships in the 200-yard freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle events
Karleigh Webb

The Ivy League confirmed Monday Thomas is eligible to compete in the conference’s swimming championships Feb 16.

Thomas currently has NCAA automatic qualifying marks and the the top times in NCAA Division I competition in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle. She also holds Ivy League records in both events.

She is expected to qualify for the NCAA Championships next month. Selections are announced Feb. 28.