Lia Thomas scandal: 5 things to know about new NCAA policy for transgender athletes

Following the Lia Thomas scandal, the NCAA has now adopted a sport-by-sport approach for transgender athletes

                            Lia Thomas scandal: 5 things to know about new NCAA policy for transgender athletes
Lia Thomas scandal has forced the NCAA to change their policy regarding transgender athletes (Patrick Smith/Getty Images and Twitter)

A lot of controversies have surrounded transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in recent times. Thomas, 22, is a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who has been shattering women’s records at the school. Thomas competed for three years at Penn as a man, Will Thomas, before the transition. At a meet on November 20 last year, Thomas had a 1:43:47 time in the 200-meter freestyle and 4:35:06 in the 500-meter freestyle. These times, which were records for Penn, would have placed Thomas second and third, respectively in the NCAA Women’s Championships. Thomas breaking women’s records has, like always, raised questions about how fair it is when people who are born as men compete as women. There has been a lot of debate surrounding what is fair on the field, the court, the track, and in the pool. 

It is unclear when Thomas transitioned from male to female. However, it is known that she had competed as a man even in November 2019 on the male swim team. As per NCAA rules, at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment is required to be able to compete as a woman.


Now 'Swimming World' editor compares Lia Thomas to a 'doped' athlete, slams NCAA

Lia Thomas: Parents ask NCAA to change 'unfair rule', stop trans swimmer from competing

Following the Lia Thomas scandal, the NCAA has now adopted a sport-by-sport approach for transgender athletes. The organization is now in line with the US and International Olympic Committees. The new guidelines were approved by the NCAA Board of Governors on Wednesday, January 19. The NCAA policy begins with the 2022 winter championships. Here are five things to know about the new guidelines:

1) Transgender participation for each sport will be determined by the policy for the sport’s national governing body. This will be subject to review and recommendation by an NCAA committee to the Board of Governors.

2) In the absence of a national governing body, the particular sport's international federation policy would be put in place. 

3) If there is no international federation policy either, previously established IOC policy criteria would have to take over. “Approximately 80 percent of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a release. “This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics.”

4) The Board of Governors is suggesting that the divisions provide flexibility to allow for additional eligibility in case a transgender student-athlete loses eligibility based on the change in the policy. The athlete will have to meet the newly adopted standards nonetheless. 

5) Transgender student-athletes will be required to document sport-specific testosterone levels about a month before they appear for their championship selections. From the 2022-23 academic year, they will mandatorily need documented levels at the beginning of their season. A second documentation will be needed six months after the first. 

“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” Georgetown President John DeGioia said in a release. “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.”


Parents of the members of the University of Pennsylvania women's swimming team had demanded the NCAA not to permit transgender swimmers to compete in the championships when Thomas' case first made headlines last year. Parents of ten swimmers sent a letter to the NCAA and also forwarded it to the Ivy League and the University of Pennsylvania. In the letter, they wrote, "At stake here is the integrity of women's sports. The precedent being set- one in which women do not have a protected and equitable space to compete- is a direct threat to female athletes in every sport. What are the boundaries? How is this in line with the NCAA's commitment to providing a fair environment for student-athletes?"

Further, the parents continued, "It is the responsibility of the NCAA to address the matter with an official statement. As the governing body, it is unfair and irresponsible to leave the onus on Lia, Lia's teammates, Lia's coaches UPenn athletics, and the Ivy League. And it is unfair and irresponsible to Lia to allow the media to dictate the narrative without the participation of the NCAA." 

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