How New USA Swimming Rules May Apply to Lia Thomas and the NCAA Championships

Lia Thomas - NCAA

How New USA Swimming Rules May Apply to Lia Thomas and the NCAA Championships

After USA Swimming released its new transgender athlete participation policy Tuesday, questions immediately turned to how this action would affect NCAA competition and, specifically, the upcoming Women’s NCAA Championships. The NCAA recently switched its policy around transgender athletes by deferring to national governing bodies, and this latest update from USA Swimming is the first fleshed-out transgender policy released by the organization.

Following the letter of the law around this new rule, a transgender athlete such as Lia Thomas would almost surely be unable to compete at NCAAs, but it is unclear if the NCAA may allow Thomas to retain her eligibility because of the last-minute policy changes. If the NCAA were to immediately follow a strict version of USA Swimming’s new rule, no transgender athlete would be allowed to compete in the women’s category prior to showing that her concentration of testosterone in serum has been less than 5 nmol/L for a continuous period of 36 months. Thomas did not begin transitioning until the late spring of 2019.

However, there are several possible loopholes that may allow Thomas to compete after all. According to the NCAA’s January 20 release, the organization recommends “flexibility to allow for additional eligibility if a transgender student-athlete loses eligibility based on the policy change provided they meet the newly adopted standards.” That may mean that Thomas would only need to record a testosterone level matching USA Swimming’s 5 nmol/L at a point one month prior to the NCAA Championships to retain her eligibility, or it may mean that she would be grandfathered into this season’s NCAA Championships regardless of testosterone levels.

Secondly, USA Swimming wrote in its release that its “policy is not applicable to non-USA Swimming athlete members nor non-approved Elite events, as defined in the policy.” It is unclear whether the NCAA Championships would fall under the category of an “elite” event (although the required qualification times are faster than USA Swimming’s standard for “elite”), and it is also unknown whether the policy would apply to Thomas since she is not a USA Swimming member, which the organization confirmed in December.

A spokesperson for the NCAA confirmed Wednesday that the Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) “will review this change at its next meeting and will make recommendations as it deems appropriate to the NCAA Board of Governors.” The NCAA reiterated that the transgender policy adopted January 19 remains in effect, and that policy indeed states that sport-specific policies must be approved by CSMAS and the Board of Governors.

The NCAA previously confirmed that it will not be changing its requirements for competing this season, so Thomas should remain eligible for the Ivy League Championships later this month.

According to the new USA Swimming rules, transgender athletes hoping to compete in women’s events would also have to provide “evidence that the prior physical development of the athlete as a male, as mitigated by any medical intervention, does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.” Final determination of eligibility would be made by a panel, but it is unclear if such a determination would be required to attain NCAA eligibility.

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SETH
4 months ago

I hope that equity, inclusion, and diversity prevail and Ms. Thomas is allowed to compete.

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KRW
4 months ago
Reply to  SETH

I hope that equity and inclusion and diversity prevail so that natural born females will NOT be forced to compete against natural born men. It’s only fair…to the scores and scores of natural born females.

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Paul
4 months ago
Reply to  KRW

It will be interesting to see if Thomas even tries to submit the data that might qualify for competition. The NCAA apparently doesn’t do much in the way of monitoring. Undoubtedly U Penn will throw a mighty tantrum. But will they offer any evidence?

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Jo Ann Sedgwick
4 months ago
Reply to  KRW

I totally agree with you.

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Laurie
4 months ago

I hope that fairness to biological females prevail and Thomas is allowed to compete in the male division.

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Susan
4 months ago

I’m hoping this gets worked out before NCAAs. Lia should be able to swim but not score – exhibition only- and not be able to break records that were made by cisgender women. There is nothing that can be done at this short notice to mitigate the obvious advantage she has over the cisgender swimmers she will be competing against. So swimming exhibition is the only fair thing to do at the moment.

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Ozite
4 months ago

If Lia swims, I hope all the others take the knee.

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TransWomenDeserveCivilRights
4 months ago

THIS SHIFT IN THE REQUIREMENT IS DISCRIMINATORY.
With the old requirement, trans women have never won a championship in the Olympics, US Open, or the highest level of NCAA, Division 1. Together, those organizations have had millions of women compete through their events spanning 76 years of trans women being allowed!

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Louis E.
4 months ago

No,”trans women” were never allowed…their actual sex always disqualified them from competitions limited to actual women.
Until recently they would never have dared demand that their claim to be women be taken seriously.

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Paul
4 months ago

The statutory scheme which allows select privileged athletes to alter their hormone levels for competitive advantage while denying the same right to all other athletes is the most grotesquely unfair and unconstitutional scheme of all time in sports. At least the new USA Swimming rules will help.

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Margaret Thatcher
4 months ago

This policy is rooted in science. The athlete must show proof of their hormone levels and show that it does not create an unfair advantage.

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Bill
4 months ago

I predict this will become a major national political issue. We will never see a clear resolution.