NCAA Makes Changes to Transgender Athlete Policy, Essentially Saying “Here, You Figure it Out”

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By now you’re probably familiar with the transgender swimmer story at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lia Thomas is a former competitor on the men’s team who transitioned, did a year of hormone suppressant, and is now participating for the women’s team, which has resulted in a big hubbub about fairness and the integrity of competition.

There’s been a lot of arguing on both sides, but ultimately Thomas met all of the requirements set forth by the NCAA. That resulted in a lot of people, us included, wondering if the guidelines needed to be updated to ensure a level playing field. Now the NCAA has responded to that by updating the policy on transgender athletes, explained here by Katie Barnes at ESPNW:

The NCAA announced a new policy Wednesday in which eligibility requirements for transgender athletes will be determined by each sport’s national governing body.

The new requirements go into effect immediately. The previous policy, adopted in 2010, was uniform across all sports and was based on hormone therapy requirements.

The NCAA is essentially just punting responsibility here. They’re saying “this is no longer our problem, you figure it out.”

Regardless, it probably does make more sense for each of these governing bodies to set the parameters for transgender participation because they know their respective sports better than anybody. In this particular case, Thomas now needs to meet the guidelines set forth by USA swimming, or else she can’t compete at the NCAA championships, which take place in March.

Thing is, USA Swimming doesn’t actually have a formal policy on this, as David Rieder at Swimming World explains:

…the organization follows IOC medical criteria 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.”

It is unknown if Thomas would be able to adhere to this 10 nmol/L standard that could become the rule for transgender female seeking to compete in women’s swimming events on the college level, and it’s also unclear whether USA Swimming plans to make any changes to its transgender participation policies that would also affect the NCAA.

Right, so basically the burden falls on somebody else to figure this out. It’s corny on the part of the NCAA, since they are just shifting responsibility to another party instead of coming up with a concrete solution here, but like I wrote earlier, these individual governing bodies are probably better equipped to make these decisions, assuming they aren’t just going to defer to the IOC. There’s an opportunity here for USA Swimming and other entities to actually address the problem head on, instead of passing the buck.

Here’s the full NCAA release if you want to read it.

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