NCAA updates policies on trans student athletes, implementation still somewhat unclear
Updated: Apr 1
The NCAA board of governors updated the [Transgender Participation Policy] at their meeting on Jan. 19 following public outcry after a trans woman from [University of Pennsylvania's] women's swim team began dominating her division. The policy change coincided with the rewriting of the NCAA constitution, but was actually a decision made by the NCAA board of governors. The constitution was voted on by heads of various athletic departments across the nation, while the new policy was a decision not made by vote. “This was not something that was voted on. This was a decision made by the NCAA board of governors and the NCAA so we will have to follow it,” said Leslie Shevlin, Willamette’s associate athletic director. The NCAA board of governors is the highest committee in the NCAA and oversees association-wide issues. The new plan comes in three phases: phase one is almost exactly the same as the current rules at the conference level, but it calls for more testing of hormone levels and paperwork before the national championships held this academic year. Phase two will begin Aug. 1, 2022 and is a mixture or doubling up of the old protocol and the new protocol governing what trans athletes need to do to participate. Phase three, which begins Aug. 1, 2023, is when the new rules will be fully implemented. Full implementation will see a switch from a universal testosterone level across all sports to sport specific rules. Soon the national association of each sport will make the rules for their respective sport. An example is that the US Soccer Federation will have their own Trans Athlete Participation Policy with their own required hormone levels and the NCAA will follow that policy.
Phase one is in compliance with the [Transgender Participation Policy] passed in 2010. This policy states that an athlete who is transitioning must have “one year of testosterone suppression treatment.” The rest of phase one is that they will have to “document a one-time serum testosterone level that falls below the maximum allowable level for the sport in which the student-athlete is competing” (NCAA). This means that, to compete in a national competition, you will have to test and prove your testosterone levels. The rules determining the maximum allowable testosterone levels will be decided by the national federation for any given sport. If a student is only competing in conference play, almost nothing changes. However, to compete in a national competition, all of this documentation must be submitted four weeks prior to the event.
Phase two is when the plan affects the regular season, thus affecting all trans athletes. This will again be in compliance with the 2010 policy that requires a year of testosterone suppression. The difference is that all trans athletes will have to submit documentation proving that they meet the required testosterone level for their sport. They will have to prove this again six months later. They won’t have to prove their testosterone levels for the entire prior year, only for when they start their sport. On top of that, they will have to submit this documentation four weeks prior to the national championships if they make it.
By phase three, we have left the 2010 rules about hormone suppression entirely behind. Trans athletes will have to prove their testosterone levels twice annually. The levels they have to meet will vary based on the sport they play.
It is hard to say what this new plan will look like considering it changes per sport. Not every sport even has a Trans Athlete Participation Policy drawn up yet. “Now every governing body, if they didn’t have a transgender student athlete participation policy, I think that they are going to have to have one now.” said Shevlin. So this policy is dependent on more work being done by national sports federations. We are waiting to see how it will play out sport by sport. Chris Olivia, the LGBTQ+ resource coordinator for the GRAC, brought up a couple concerns regarding the change. “It makes it more inaccessible… with a lot more testing and a lot more time [spent]” said Olivia. A second concern brought up by Olivia “is whether medical privacy is preserved or not.” These are things we will have to watch for as the new policy unfolds over the next couple of years.