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 new policy comes at a time when transgender athletes continue to be a focus of national debate. Since 2020, 10 states have enacted laws restricting participation for transgender athletes in school sports, many of which affect collegiate participation at the competitive, club and intramural levels.
This winter, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who is transgender, recorded the top times in the country in the 200-yard and 500-yard women's freestyle. Under the NCAA's new policy, Thomas would need to be in compliance with USA Swimming's criteria in order to participate at the NCAA championships in March.
USA Swimming did not respond to a request to provide details of its existing policy. The University of Pennsylvania also did not respond to a request for comment.
"We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports," said John DeGioia, NCAA Board of Governors chair 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."
Beginning with the 2022 winter championships, transgender athletes wishing to compete will need to document their testosterone levels, in compliance with their specific sport, four weeks before the sport's selection of championship participants. If a national governing body does not have a policy, then the international federation's policy will be used. If the international federation does not have a policy, then the previously established International Olympic Committee policy will be used.
During the 2022-23 season, athletes will need to provide testosterone level documentation at three predetermined points, including four weeks before championship selection.
"This update complicates the NCAA policy in a way that I don't believe they are equipped to handle," said Chris Mosier, a duathlete and transgender inclusion advocate. "Given that many NGBs have not created policies for transgender athletes and that policies vary from sport NGB to NGB, tracking compliance is going to be a nightmare for the NCAA. This creates many different standards for trans athletes."
Former Olympic swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a member of the Women's Sports Policy Working Group, also took issue with the revisions.
"The new NCAA policy sounds a lot like the old one," she said. "The board hasn't resolved the intractable balancing between fairness, playing safety and inclusion. They failed women by not prioritizing fairness."
The NCAA policy shift is an attempt to bring the organization in line with the IOC's approach.
"Approximately 80% of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes," NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. "This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics."