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New NCAA Rules for Trans Athletes

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The NCAA has endured a litany of changes in recent years. From the new name and likeness bylaws that allow student-athletes to get paid while playing in their respective programs, to realignment of divisions, things certainly aren’t the same as they used to be for the nation’s largest governing body of student athletes. More changes that the NCAA has had to make have centered around the rules and regulations for transgender athletes hoping to compete at the collegiate level. These changes have come about because of 22-year old University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas regularly breaking long standing women’s team records. She previously competed on the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s swimming team for three years before her transition took place this past summer. 

The widespread attention her story has gained is one of the biggest catalysts for change to the NCAA’s policy on transgender athletes. On Wednesday, the governing body agreed on a new course of action for deciding how to approach transgender athletes playing college sports. The changes will go into effect starting with the 2022 winter championships and will require transgender NCAA athletes to document their testosterone levels at the beginning of the season, for their selected sport. The changes for NCAA regulations for transgender guidelines essentially brings them in line with the same guidelines as the International Olympic Committee. 

This means that the NCAA is allowing the governing body of each sport to make its own recommendations, which are subject to review by the NCAA committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports to the Board of Governors. According to a media release from the NCAA, if said sport has no governing body, the determination is to be made by the international federal policy that’s established, and if there is none, the previously established IOC policy criteria is to be followed. Another new policy introduced specifically for transgender athletes by the NCAA, is that they are required to take another testosterone test six months after the original one was taken as of the start of the 2022-23 academic calendar. Transgender students will also need to test and report their testosterone levels beginning four weeks prior to the sport’s championship selections. The changes that are coming for transgender college athletes don’t come without a considerable amount of input from a multitude of different parties.

One of the most prominent voices on the issue has been transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner. When asked by Fox News, Jenner said that she doesn’t believe biological boys should be playing in women’s sports and that “we need to protect women’s sports.” Perhaps one of the world’s most famous swimmers Michael Phelps also weighed in on the matter. He told CNN in an interview that he believes this matter is “hard and very complicated.” Being that he’s honestly competed in the sport for his entire career, his main hope is that everyone involved in the sport is able to compete on a level playing field. The new policy should have a tremendous effect on transgender participation in sports for years to come. 

Given that there’s no guideline for the NCAA to use to create a level playing field with transgender athletes, taking the same course of action as organizations like the IOC seems like the common-sense decision. NCAA President Mark Emmert, in a quote shared in a media release said, “Approximately 80% of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes. This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics. “ Whether or not having alignment with the Olympics is what it takes to create a level playing field for all participants remains to be seen.

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