NCAA Updates Policy for Transgender Athletes

The organization adopted a sport-by-sport approach in line with the policies of the U.S. and international Olympic committees.

Published January 20, 2022

Edited by Alex Pasquariello
NCAA Updates Policy for Transgender Athletes
College Sports
Photo by Icon Sports Wire / Contributor / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

  • The NCAA voted to update its policy on the opening day of their annual national convention.
  • It adopted a model that is in line with those used by the U.S. and international Olympic committees.
  • The issue has taken on urgency as states pass legislation regulating the participation of transgender athletes in high school sports.

On Wednesday, the NCAA updated its policy regulating transgender athletes' participation in college sports. The update better aligns the organization with the U.S. and international Olympic committees.

The new standards immediately replaced the NCAA's 10-year-old policy with a sport-by-sport approach that could result in some transgender athletes losing their eligibility to compete in collegiate sports. The NCAA didn't say how many athletes could be affected.

The association's Board of Governors voted to update its policy on the opening day of the NCAA's annual national convention, demonstrating the urgency of the issue as more transgender athletes participate in college sports.

“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports”
John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown University president

"We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports," John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown University president, said in a statement. "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."

The issue of transgender athletes participating in sports has become increasingly politicized in the last year as some states pass legislation regulating their participation in high school sports.

In an address welcoming attendees to the NCAA convention, DeGioia acknowledged the charged political environment and warned that all those hosting NCAA championships must abide by the association's new policy. The NCAA sponsors 90 annual sports championships held in multiple venues across the country.

"We have seen legislation in a number of states regulating transgender athlete participation in sports," DeGoia said in his opening remarks. "All championship hosts, both current and future, will have to reaffirm their commitment to ensure a nondiscriminatory and safe environment for all college athletes. This will continue to be an area of significant focus for the board in the coming year."

This will continue to be an area of significant focus for the board in the coming year.

The updated policy will take a "sport-by-sport approach" to transgender athletes' participation, meaning the national governing body of each sport will determine eligibility, including acceptable testosterone levels, with those eligibility criteria subject to review by the NCAA.

In sports without a national governing board, the NCAA will follow that sport's international federation policy. If there is no international federation policy, International Olympic Committee policy criteria will be followed, the NCAA said.

Recognizing that some transgender athletes could be immediately sidelined by its updated policy, the Board of Governors called upon its three divisions (Divisions I, II, and III) to provide flexibility to allow for additional eligibility for those transgender athletes that lose eligibility once they meet the newly adopted standards.

To compete under the revised criteria, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport's championship selections.

In the 2022-23 academic year, transgender student-athletes will need to provide documented testosterone levels at the beginning of their season and a second documentation six months after the first. They will also need to submit documented testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections. Full implementation of the new criteria will begin with the 2023-24 academic year.

“This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics”
Mark Emmert, NCAA president

"This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics," said Mark Emmert, NCAA president.

Among the critics of the NCAA's earlier policy was Donna Lopiano, president of The Drake Group and former chief executive officer of the Women's Sports Foundation. She recently called the former policy “outdated” and explained her issues with it in an article published by Forbes. But she applauded the updated policy, while noting that much work still needs to be done to establish appropropriate criteria worldwide for transgender athletes across all sports.

"The NCAA did the right thing," she told BestColleges, in deferring to national governing boards and others to set standards for transgender athletes. "We can't create the NIL (name, image, likeness) situation where every state and every organization has a different law. You can't bump people in and out of eligibility."