Column: In Latest Error, NCAA Runs Away From Transgender Decision; Turns Back On Women’s Sports

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Column: In Latest Botched Move, NCAA Runs Away From Transgender Decision; Turns Back On Women’s Sports

Why should we have expected anything more? Not with its track record. Not as an organization that, on a regular basis, seemingly steps in a pile of … well, you know. And on Wednesday, the stink from the NCAA’s shoe was permeating once again, as the governing body for collegiate sports in the United States took a cowardly approach to the hot topic of transgender sports participation – especially the involvement of transgender women.

For a little more than a month, one of the main storylines in the sport has been Lia Thomas, a transgender woman competing for the University of Pennsylvania. After producing a pair of nation-leading times at an early-season invitational, questions arose concerning the fairness of Thomas, a three-year member of the Penn men’s squad, racing against biological females.

While Thomas had met the NCAA’s standard of one year of hormone-suppressant therapy, it was clear her male-puberty advantage had not been mitigated. The NCAA’s policy was based on scientific data more than a decade old and it was clear an unfair field of competition had emerged. It was up to the NCAA to step forward and implement a system that ensured fairness.

How did the NCAA handle the situation? Basically, the organization sprinted away from the debate and yelled, as it looked over its shoulder: “You deal with it.”

During a Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday, the NCAA punted responsibility on the issue. Going forward, it has decided to defer to National Governing Bodies (NGBs) in all sports it oversees when it comes to determining transgender eligibility. Oh, yes, the NCAA was verbose in its statement. In part, it said:

“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.”

Why not just say the following? “We’re not making a call on this!”

The NCAA Championships are a little less than two months away and, based on the statement released by the NCAA, Thomas might be allowed to compete. Or, she might not. The situation is that up in the air. Whether or not she will race in Atlanta, though, is not the issue here. The focus is that the NCAA had the opportunity to deliver a clear-cut ruling on Wednesday. It could have relied on scientific research and levied a decision on transgender inclusion, and what requirements needed to be met. And if it wasn’t ready to produce a final call, it could have slightly delayed that decision.

Instead, the NCAA went the gutless route. It basically – for our sport – handed the baton to USA Swimming and FINA and declared this problem not of its jurisdiction. Throughout this debate, there has been no doubt that – eventually – USA Swimming and FINA would need to make a ruling on the transgender-participation issue. And one would have to think that behind closed doors, officials within those governing bodies have discussed how to proceed. But the NCAA needed to stand up, too, and prove itself capable of addressing a controversial issue. It couldn’t.

Really, the NCAA answers only to itself, so did it truly have a reason to make a definitive decision and implement specific, science-based guidelines? Probably not.

It took forever for the governing body to allow its athletes the opportunity to benefit from their Name-Image-Likeness (NIL). It’s a group that last year, in an embarrassing scene, provided a loaded weight room for its NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It provided athletes at the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament with a dumbbell rack. The NCAA simply can’t get out of its way.

Through its decision, or lack thereof, the NCAA once again disrespected women’s sports. The organization did not deem this issue important enough to craft specific, science-based guidelines that would protect women’s athletics. It failed to protect female athletes, which should have been at the heart of the Board of Governors’ discussion. Rather than stand up for women, the NCAA handed that duty to other groups.

Worse, the NCAA tried to spin its decision as a meaningful connection between itself and the Olympic movement. Check out this word-doctoring from Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA.

“Approximately 80% 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.”

Got that? The NCAA’s attempt to throw the onus on National Governing Bodies as a coordinated effort is a sham. That approach is nothing more than a convenient excuse to free itself of making a potentially difficult and controversial decision.

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll see how the transgender-participation policy is worked through by USA Swimming and FINA. We’ll find out if Lia Thomas will race at the NCAA Championships, and how the policy will affect the sport in the future. Then, and only then, we’ll also learn how the transgender issue is handled by the NCAA.

It could have been different. The NCAA could have acted boldly.

Then again, that would have meant a flip turn from the norm.

13 Comments
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adult human female
10 months ago

While I appreciate you reporting the truth on the matter, using female language to describe a man is dishonest, fraudulent & offensive to women.

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A real girl
10 months ago

You’re bias and hatred is showing…

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Lady Bugg
10 months ago
Reply to  A real girl

Bias and hatred?

To whom? How?

Those are some pretty serious allegations.

Or is this just to shut down truths that can’t be said?

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SETH
10 months ago
Reply to  A real girl

I couldn’t agree more!

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Anonymous
10 months ago

“Using female language to describe a man is dishonest, fraudulent & offensive to women.”

First of all – Lia is a transwoman. She gets to make that choice, not you. She’s asked to be referred to as a woman, and deliberately not doing so is ignorant and mean spirited. Not doing so in some kind of misguided effort to reclaim the definition of femininity and womanhood is evidence of your own fragility. Perhaps if you were more secure in your own sense of womanhood, you’d be able to summon the empathy necessary to behave kindly and with a modicum of understanding.

Second of all – you don’t get to decide to what is considered offensive to women. Nobody elected you leader of the women of the world. Plenty of us welcome trans people regardless of our stance of their status in athletic competitions.

We can have reasonable debates about the fairness of sport without mis-gendering trans people and without claiming that they are less of a man or woman. I urge you to reconsider your stance on the humanity of those who’s gender expressions are not similar to your own.

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A Real Woman
10 months ago

He’s a MAN. Stop calling him a woman. Everyone knows what a woman is, we all came out of one.

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Anonymous
10 months ago
Reply to  A Real Woman

She’s a woman, because she’s chosen to live her life as a woman. It’s kinda like how you’re a dick, because you’ve chosen to be a dick.

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Jane
9 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

That is not the definition of a woman, it’s the definition of a fantasist.

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Charlie
10 months ago

This is going to be the end of women’s sports if they keep allowing men to compete against women. What happened to common sense
?

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Gwendolyn Wong
10 months ago

Lia Thomas is a man who has treated himself chemically to reduce testosterone blood levels. He has not done anything, and cannot do anything to reverse the male growth (skeletal bone development, muscular development, other clear male traits such as his voice) that he experienced during childhood, puberty, and his formative swim training years, all experienced as a male. The fact that he competed for three years as a male competitor should automatically rule him out for competing as a woman.

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Laura J. Richardson
10 months ago

No way should someone with a penis be allowed to compete against a woman with a vagina. This is simply ridiculous.

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Greg
10 months ago

Solution: Female born that continue to identify as females can compete in the Female “division”; all genders and identities are eligible to compete in the Mens/Open division across all sports.

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david
10 months ago

If he looks like a man, talks like a man, walks like a man, and certainly swim like a man, Dahhhhh he is a man. multiple studies have shown in recent years

that transgender women athletes who went through a typical male puberty

during adolescence still hold a competitive edge over their

biologically female competitors, even after undergoing several years of

testosterone suppression therapy.