The NCAA Board of Governors voted Wednesday to adopt a sport-by-sport approach to transgender athletes, prompting an outcry from critics who accused the collegiate authority of punting on the hotly contested issue of fairness and inclusion in women’s sports.
The board, which announced its vote a day ahead of its Thursday meeting, said the updated policy follows the criteria recently adopted by the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
“Like the Olympics, the updated NCAA policy calls for transgender participation for each sport to be determined by the policy for the national governing body of that sport, subject to ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports to the Board of Governors,” the collegiate board said in a statement.
The change, which takes effect immediately, comes as University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas smashes women’s records after three years of competing on the men’s team, spurring an outcry over fairness in women’s sports.
NCAA Board Chairman John DeGioia, who also is president of Georgetown University, emphasized the importance of including transgender athletes in collegiate sports.
“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” DeGioia said in the NCAA statement. “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.”
Critics include Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner, who is transgender. She said Wednesday that the NCAA needs to “stop this right now” to protect women’s sports.
The IOC has deferred to international sports federations to set standards on transgender participation. But until recently, it also had recommended that male-to-female athletes keep their testosterone below a certain level for a year prior to competition.
In November, however, the IOC dropped its 2015 guidance and replaced it with a 10-point statement that emphasized inclusion and said there should be “no presumption of advantage.” The advisory no longer includes a specific testosterone recommendation.
The NCAA’s newly adopted policy would apparently shift responsibility for determining transgender eligibility to USA Swimming, which has not commented publicly so far on the updated policy.
“Approximately 80% of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics.”
Those frustrated with the NCAA’s announcement included the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America.
“We have been in communication with the NCAA BoG and are disappointed in their failure to take the lead in this important discussion,” the association tweeted. “We will comment further following our BoD mtg tomorrow.”
Linda Blade, a Canadian sports-performance coach and critic of policies allowing male-born athletes in women’s sports, said she wasn’t surprised.
“This is exactly as I predicted,” Blade tweeted. “Rather than working diligently to create a comprehensive & sensible policy … Pass the buck to each individual #sport governing body.”
The Board of Governors also recommended that the divisions “provide 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.”
The policy would be in effect for the NCAA swimming and diving championships in March, where the 22-year-old Thomas is expected to be a top contender. She holds the nation’s top times this season in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle.
The NCAA’s previous rule required male-to-female athletes to undergo testosterone-suppression treatment for a year before competition on the women’s side, which Thomas has done.
“Transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections,” the NCAA board said in its statement. “Starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender student-athletes will need documented levels at the beginning of their season and a second documentation six months after the first. They will also need documented testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections. Full implementation would begin with the 2023-24 academic year.”
Former USC swimming coach Dave Salo said he was “disappointed that agencies continue to kick this can down the road.”
“No one wants to take a stand for biological logic,” Salo told The Washington Times. “Born male, you compete male; born female, you compete female.”