NCAA changes transgender participation policy for collegiate athletes amid increasing pressure

A trans-woman who competes on the University of Pennsylvania's women's swim team has placed NCAA rules in the spotlight in recent months

Updated: January 20, 2022 - 10:05am

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The NCAA is announcing a policy change regarding transgender athletes, amid an ongoing debate about fairness, inclusion and competition in school sports. 

The new approach to allowing transgender athletes to compete will follow a sport-by-sport model, similar to the one adopted by the U.S. and Olympic committees, according to a report from Sports Illustrated.

"We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports," John Degioia, the chairman of the NCAA board and president of Georgetown University, said Wednesday about the changes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's board of governors opted to pass the new policy, which will take effect immediately, to preserve "opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete."

The NCAA has been increasingly in the spotlight in recent months as University of Pennsylvania's Lia Thomas, a transgender student who competed on the school's men's swim team for three years, began to transition and compete this year for the women's team.

Thomas has been competing against biological females this season, breaking Ivy League records and often easily beating female teammates. Thomas' presence on the team has prompted advocates for women's sports to speak out, as well as parents and students at Penn, who have criticized the NCAA for allowing Thomas to compete. 

"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," DeGioia also said.

NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement arguing that the new policy will bring collegiate sports closer to the Olympic standard.

"Approximately 80% of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes," he said. "This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics."

The new policy for swimmers will follow the International Olympic Committee's that states: "Trans female athletes must demonstrate a total testosterone level in serum below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 consecutive months prior to competition and must remain below this threshold throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category in any event."

Thomas recently faced stiff competition at a recent meet when the athlete raced against Yale's Iszac Henig, who is currently transitioning from female to male, but competing for the women's team. Henig finished more than three seconds ahead of Thomas in the 1000-meter freestyle event.