NCAA Aims for Inclusion and Fairness with Updated Transgender Participation Policy

Kevin Sethre, staff writer

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Board of Governors “voted in support of a sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation that preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion, and safety for all who compete,” according to a statement that was posted on the organization’s website following the vote on Wednesday, Jan. 19. This policy aims to include transgender student-atheletes in all varieties of athletics, while requiring them to report their hormone levels at various points throughout the season, as to ensure that they are on a level playing field with their cisgender peers.

The statement also says that the NCAA’s policy on transgender participation is now aligned with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee as well as the International Olympic Committee’s policy, which was also updated recently. NCAA President Mark Emmert said in the statement that aligning with the USOPC’s policy is important because “approximately 80% of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes.” 

The new policy will be effective immediately during the 2022 winter championships, and according to ncaa.org, “transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections,” and at the beginning of 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,” and “they will also need documented testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.” Under the new policy, transgender participation in each sport will “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.”

John DeGioia, the chair of the board, said that the NCAA remains “steadfast” in their “support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” and he believes that the updated policy will create “an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment.”

However, some advocates don’t believe that the new policy will achieve this goal.  In an article written by Katie Barnes on ESPN, Chris Moslier, a duathlete and transgender inclusion advocate, said that “tracking compliance is going to be a nightmare for the NCAA” and the sport-by-sport approach “creates many different standards for trans athletes.”  Barnes noted that the updated policy “comes at a time when transgender athletes continue to be a focus of national debate.  Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic swimmer and current member of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, said that the new policy is too similar to the old one and “the board hasn’t resolved the intractable balancing between fairness, playing safety and inclusion.”  Because of this, she believes that the NCAA “failed women by not prioritizing fairness.”

Since 2010, 10 states have enacted laws restricting participation for transgender athletes in school sports” and many of these laws “affect collegiate participation at the competitive, club and intramural levels.”

According to Bleacher Report’s Joseph Zucker, the new policy opens the door for the University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer who “is on pace to qualify for the national championships in swimming, having posted the best times in the 200-yard and 500-yard women’s freestyle events.” The women’s swimming and diving championships start on March 16.