Athlete Ally Responds to NCAA Transgender Student Athlete Participation Policy Update

January 12, 2023 — Athlete Ally responded today to news that on Wednesday, the NCAA’s Board of Governors voted to extend phase two of the NCAA transgender student-athlete participation policy through the 2023-24 academic year. Phase three will begin in the 2024-25 academic year. 

The 2022 policy, interpreted and enacted by the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute and the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS), relies upon a sport-by-sport policy model. Each transgender athlete, and the institution at which they compete, is beholden to their sport’s national or international governing bodies’ policy on transgender athletes. Given that there currently are sports in which trans women athletes are effectively banned at the national and international  levels, such as swimming and rugby, or which mandate unnecessary surgery such as golf, it is imperative that the NCAA create pathways for equitable participation. 

Though the NCAA modeled their policy after the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s 2021 Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations, the NCAA’s policy provides no safeguards for athletes or NCAA administrators. This leaves many questions about how the policy should be interpreted and enacted by individual NCAA institutions and conference offices.

The announcement comes less than two months after the release of the most up to date and comprehensive literature review ever published on elite, transgender women athletes. On November 3, the E-Alliance, a cross-disciplinary panel of research experts from Canada found “Testosterone levels do not predict athletic performance or overall athleticism” (see p 29).

“We appreciate that the NCAA is taking the steps necessary to pause and reassess the best way to support all student athletes,” said Dr. Anna Baeth, Athlete Ally’s Director of Research. “We hope to see the NCAA utilizing this time to take a hard look at the most up to date science around competitive advantage. We firmly believe that the latest research from the E Alliance and guidelines at the highest level of sport underscore that transgender athletes do not have an inherent advantage in sport and should be not just accepted, but celebrated, in NCAA sport.

This pause is an opportune moment for the NCAA to seriously consider all issues around gender in sport. From the 2021 March Madness women’s basketball tournament to today, inequities facing women athletes have failed to be adequately addressed and remedied, despite NCAA climate studies and official statements. For the NCAA Board of Governors to effectively center the needs of all women athletes, priority areas should be on developing an inclusive policy for transgender athletes (as well as nonbinary and intersex athletes), supporting better implementation of Title IX, following up with sexual harassment claims, making meaningful investments in the infrastructure of women’s sports, and focusing on the most current research on gender in sport.”