The Ivy League confirmed late Monday that University of Pennsylvania senior swimmer Lia Thomas will be eligible to compete in the conference’s championship meet, February 16-19 in Cambridge, Mass.
The decision, confirmed via email to Swimming World magazine, lays at least one question to rest for the transgender woman competitor who has been at the center of a growing debate over inclusion. Her eligibility for NCAA Division I national championship meet in March in Atlanta, where she has already qualified in two events, will be decided later this month.
Thomas has the potential to become the first transgender student athlete to win an Ivy League individual championship in the history of the conference, and join former University of Montana distance runner Juniper Eastwood as the only transgender student-athletes to win an individual conference title in NCAA Division I.
Her top performances in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events are the best across NCAA Division I this season, in addition to breaking the Ivy League record in both events. She also has the nation’s eighth best time in the 1,650 free as of the last set of most recent rankings of top times by USA Swimming.
For nationals, her eligibility rests on how the NCAA and USA Swimming rule based on the guidelines the NCAA announced and later clarified in January. The previous transgender inclusion policy, first set in 2011, was replaced with a framework where collegiate eligibility is determined on a sport-by-sport basis through regulation of individual national governing bodies.
USA Swimming announced their new policy February 1, which involves regulating serum testosterone levels. The standard USA Swimming will adopt involves a 5 nanomole-per-liter limit that must be held for 36 months to be eligible. Former IOC policy mandated 10 nanomole-per-liter limits for 12 months.
Ultimately the NCAA is going to have to make a decision. Regardless of USA Swimming’s 36-month requirement, NCAA rules also state that a student-athlete must show documents proving the requirements have been met at least four weeks prior to an NCAA national championship event.
At the same time, the NCAA guidance suggests providing “flexibility to allow for additional eligibility if a transgender student-athlete loses eligibility based on the policy change provided they meet the newly adopted standards.”
If Thomas is allowed to compete at the national championship, she would have an opportunity to be the first transgender student-athlete to earn NCAA All-America honors and/or a national championship in Division I and be the second to do so regardless of division. CeCé Telfer, a track and field student-athlete at Division II Franklin Pierce, was the first when she won a national championship in the 400-meter hurdles in 2019.