NCAA to Let Each Sport Set Transgender Policy After Controversy Over Swimmer Lia Thomas

The NCAA said Wednesday it would change its policy on transgender athletes to a "sport-by-sport approach."

Previously, the policy allowed transgender women to compete on women's college sports teams as long as they showed they had received testosterone-suppressing medication for at least a year before.

Now, according to an NCAA statement, the decision will be left to each sport's national governing body. If there is no governing body, it will fall to the sport's international federation policy. If there is none, the athletes will follow the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) criteria.

The NCAA policy drew attention when University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, began breaking records on the women's team this season.

Newsweek previously reported that Thomas faced opposition to her competing in a January 8 swim meet against Dartmouth's and Yale's teams. While she placed first in two races and fifth in another, a few women outside the meet protested her participation, calling it unfair. However, others at the event supported her.

In a statement, the University of Pennsylvania said it is "committed to being a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our student-athletes," adding that "as a member of the NCAA, Penn is governed by the policies of the national governing body. Lia Thomas has met or exceeded all NCAA protocols over the past two years for a transgender female student-athlete to compete for a women's team."

Under the new NCAA policy, Thomas will now need to comply with USA Swimming's criteria. USA Swimming follows the IOC's policy, which requires monitoring of the athlete's testosterone levels, according to the World Open Water Swimming Association,

The NCAA's decision to change its policy stems from an effort to more closely align with the IOC and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, NCAA President Mark Emmert said in the statement.

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

The policy will go into effect starting with the 2022 winter championships. Transgender student-athletes will need to document their testosterone levels four weeks before their sport's championship selections, according to the NCAA's statement.

Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, transgender student-athletes will also need to document their testosterone levels at the beginning of their sport's season and six months after that.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors, said in the statement the board wants to support transgender athletes and maintain fairness in sports.

"We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports," DeGioia said. "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."

Lia Thomas, University of Pennsylvania, swimmer
The NCAA announced it would change its policy on transgender athletes by adopting a sport-by-sport approach. Above, Lia Thomas of the Pennsylvania Quakers swims in the 500-meter freestyle event during a tri-meet on January 8. Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images