NCAA Board of Governors Updates Transgender Policy

by Matthew Harder 74

January 19th, 2022 College, National, News

Anne Lepesant contributed to this report.

The NCAA has passed the buck on transgender participation policy.

The governing body for most varsity collegiate athletics released a statement on Wednesday, a day earlier than the anticipated meeting from the Board of Governors on January 20th as part of this week’s convention in Indianapolis.

The NCAA Board voted today in support of a sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation which focuses on balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete. The new policy, effective immediately for the winter 2022 championships, aligns transgender student-athlete participation for college sports that align with recent policy changes from the U.S. and International Olympic Committees (IOCs).

The updated NCAA policy calls for transgender participation for each sport to be determined by the policy for the national governing body (NGB) of that sport, subject to ongoing review. If there is no NGB policy in the sport, that sport’s international federation policy would be followed. If there is no international federation policy, the previously established IOC policy criteria would be followed.

A spokesperson from the NCAA has clarified that the “previously established IOC policy criteria” refers to the November 2021 framework, which doesn’t have specific rules about testosterone impression but provides guidance to sport governing bodies as they establish their own rules. In other words, at present, for swimming, this means that there is now no testosterone suppression requirement, as neither FINA nor USA Swimming have published one.

Prior to a recent shift by the IOC to a framework, rather than hard-and-fast rules, the international organization recommended that transgender women suppress their testosterone levels to under 10 n/mol per litre for at least 12 months in order to compete. The IOC’s medical director, Richard Budgett, admitted in early 2021 that this policy was no longer appropriate.

This policy is a response to the statement that the Board of Governors put out in April reaffirming their commitment to their support for the inclusion of transgender student-athletes in collegiate athletics, noting, “This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition.”

“The NCAA has a long-standing policy (PDF) that provides a more inclusive path for transgender participation in college sports. Our approach — which requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports — embraces the evolving science on this issue and is anchored in participation policies of both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The conversation has taken a turn more recently, with Penn swimmer Lia Thomas gaining international media attention for her record-breaking swims this fall. Thomas, who swam for the Quakers’ men’s team for three years before her transition, has the nation’s top times in the 200 free (1:41.93) and 500 free (4:34.06) and is ranked sixth in the 1650 free (15:59.71).

The policy takes effect with the winter 2022 season, meaning that current transgender athletes, like Thomas, could be impacted as early as this season – if USA Swimming and/or FINA come up with a policy.

From the release:

“The policy is effective starting with the 2022 winter championships. Transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. 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.”

The NCAA Board of Governors are urging the divisions to grant extra seasons of eligibility for those athletes who are ultimately ruled ineligible for this season because of the new policy change.

USA Swimming and FINA have not yet publicized a firm policy for transgender athletes in elite sport. The International Olympic Committee has released a framework for decision-making on transgender athlete participation, but has largely left the specifics of those policies up to the sporting federations.

The CSCAA, a trade group that represents collegiate swimming & diving coaches, have made their first public comment on the matter via Tweet after the NCAA vote was revealed.

While the transgender athletes policy has become a lightning-rod for the NCAA in the last 3 months, this week’s constitutional convention has even bigger topics on the docket, including the possibility of a complete overhaul of collegiate athletics.

Full Release, Courtesy of the NCAA:

The NCAA Board of Governors on Wednesday 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. The new policy, effective immediately, aligns transgender student-athlete participation for college sports with recent policy changes from the U.S. and International Olympic Committees.

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. If there is no NGB policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy would be followed. If there is no international federation policy, previously established IOC policy criteria would be followed.

The Board of Governors urged the divisions to 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 is effective starting with the 2022 winter championships. Transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. 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.

“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” said John DeGioia, chair of the board and Georgetown president. “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.”

“Approximately 80% of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes,” said Mark Emmert, NCAA president. “This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics.”

Additionally, the NCAA’s Office of Inclusion and the Sport Science Institute released the Gender Identity and Student-Athlete Participation Summit Final Report (PDF). The report assists ongoing membership efforts to support inclusion, fairness, and the mental and physical health of transgender and non-binary student-athletes in collegiate sport.

The Board of Governors met Wednesday in Indianapolis as part of the 2022 NCAA Convention. For more on key topics from the 2022 NCAA Convention, visit ncaa.org/convention.

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THEO
3 months ago

I’m glad it’s confirmed to be sport-specific. I think the right solution for swimming is different than others.

I think I’m swimming it could be something like:
1) trans women train and compete with women
2) records are kept separately (maintaining another set of records is really very low-lift)
3) trans women can score in dual meets and conference but not at NCAAs. If a school wants to send a trans woman on their roster as a non-scoring swimmer that’s fine.

Tim Morrison
3 months ago

I’d like to know what specialists on this issue are on the task force committee to determine biological fairness for our woman swimmers.
Yes, I know I’m assuming there is one.

Last edited 3 months ago by Tim Morrison
Laura Mitchell
3 months ago

It is especially sad to see really hateful comments coming in from coaches, knowing that those comments are being read by youth athletes in all levels of the sport. Even more disturbing is that many of these comments have gone unmoderated by SwimSwam and on other forums when they are dehumanizing, violent and derogatory in nature. I’m hopeful that we (as a swimming community) get it together and start acting right.

Soapy
3 months ago

Can we all stop commenting on one post?!? Apparently Liberty To Host Senior Celebration Meet, let’s comment there too!

Swamp
3 months ago

Even if they decided to use the testosterone suppression rule, 10 nmol/l is barely considered hypogonadal for men, and is still four times that of the very top end of natural females.

Kate
Reply to  Swamp
3 months ago

Yup. The normal total testosterone range for a post-puberty, pre-menopausal cis woman is 10-54 ng/dL, which converts to 0.347-1.873 nmol/L. For a cis man in his 20s, it’s 400-1080 ng/dL, which converts to 13.88-37.48 nmol/L. That’s a very, very big difference.

Prior to puberty, boys and girls have total testosterone levels in about the same range, under 10 ng/dL. Once puberty hits, both sexes’ levels increase, but boys’ levels are more than a full order of magnitude higher than girls’. You can see that effect when you compare boys’ and girls’ age group times – they’re comparable for 10 and unders, at 11-12 the boys’ times start to get slightly faster, and by 13-14 there’s a significant gap that… Read more »

Elise
3 months ago

If it’s not effecting her performance in the pool, and there is proof, then let Lia swim.

Swimminsammy
Reply to  Elise
3 months ago

How can you say that and not be joking. Please tell me you’re being satirical.

SC4
3 months ago

If Lia is allowed to compete and she wins an NCAA title. The National controversy will be of historic proportions.

WildBill
3 months ago

So if FINA has no testosterone standard, and the NCAA rules go into effect immediately, are we to understand Lia Thomas can now go off testosterone suppressors prior to the NCAA championships?

Admin
Reply to  WildBill
3 months ago

There’s still some ambiguity there. The Board of Governors has not said that their previous 1 year rule is no longer in effect, just that there is now a testosterone level rule in effect (but only in the case when someone else has made that rule).

In the case of swimmers…it’s really just going back to the IOC framework.

For what it’s worth, after our conversation with Lia, I would be absolutely stunned if she stopped her HRT, regardless of what the rules say, though I recognize that this doesn’t make it an unimportant question.

Beverly Drangus
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago

Was the 1 year rule ever actually a rule? The preface to the packet where it appears says:

“The purpose of this resource is to provide guidance to NCAA athletic programs about how to ensure transgender student-athletes fair, respectful, and legal access to collegiate sports teams based on current medical and legal knowledge. It provides best practice and policy recommendations for intercollegiate athletic programs to provide transgender student-athletes with fair and equal opportunities to participate.”

I haven’t seen anything indicating there was any enforcement mechanism at all. That’s why I was so curious about Lia saying in her interview that she had to submit bloodwork to someone.

This is the problem with the NCAA legislating by ‘policy recommendation packet’… Read more »

Admin
Reply to  Beverly Drangus
3 months ago

If you click the link for the Handbook, you can read about the 1 year rule. Here’s the direct link: https://ncaaorg.s3.amazonaws.com/inclusion/lgbtq/INC_TransgenderHandbook.pdf

Beverly Drangus
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago

That’s the packet I took the quote from. The preface of the packet indicates the content is merely “guidance,” as quoted. Page 14 does cite specific bylaws that are relevant to these discussions. The bylaws are enforceable because they’re bylaws, but the statement about 1 year suppression is on page 15 of the packet, without any references to the bylaws. I would have assumed page 15 is back to merely “guidance” as is the rest of the packet.

I’m not saying you’re wrong about it being in the packet or treated as a rule, just furthers my broader point that even when the NCAA decides on a rule, it does a horrible job of even writing it down in an… Read more »