The Women’s Sports Policy Working Group (WSPWG) endorses the American Swimming Coaches Association’s (AWCA) position, urging the NCAA to update its Transgender Eligibility Guidelines. The Guidelines should ensure that eligibility rules are evidence-based and do not undermine the fairness, equality, and safety goals that justify separate sex competition.
In contrast with the NCAA’s prior rulemaking process that was closed to stakeholders, going forward the process must involve female athletes, their coaches, and scientific experts in sex differences in human performance alongside transgender athletes and their advocates.
The WSPWG believes that all transgender women, including Lia Thomas, should compete head-to-head in women’s events, if they can demonstrate that they’ve rolled back the sport advantages that result from male puberty, and are no longer benefitting from the structural and physiological effects of circulating testosterone outside of the female range.
As the table below and preliminary scientific analysis demonstrates, however, Lia is currently overperforming in women’s events. Her post-transition times to date – especially in the 200 yd and 500 yd freestyle – remain too close to her pre-transition bests in men’s events relative to the performance gap between male and female athletes in NCAA D-1 competition. Based on NCAA historical performance data and what we know about the effects of testosterone suppression, these differences are unlikely to be the result of normal development over time, including male-typical training gains in the collegiate cycle.
|EVENT||LT PRE-Transition ’18-’19 Personal Best Time & Ranking|
In Men’s Events
|LT POST-Transition ’21-’22 To Date Time & Ranking|
in Women’s Events
(as of 1-17-2022)
LT Pre- & Post- Transition
NCAA DI “A”
Male to Female
|200 yd Free||1:39.31|
# 462 in the nation
# 1 in the nation
|500 yd Free||4:18.72|
# 65 in the nation
# 2 in the nation
|1650 yd Free||14:54.76|
# 32 in the nation
# 6 in the nation
Had testosterone suppression worked to roll back Lia’s male sex-linked advantages, we would have expected to see the gap between her performances in men’s and women’s events grow at least to approximate the gap between males and females generally. Because it did not, Lia has gone from being a strong but not exceptional performer in D-1 men’s events to being a national contender in D-1 women’s events.
Moreover, consistent with the data on the performance gaps across the distances swum, and the scientific evidence on the differential effects of testosterone suppression on endurance versus explosive power, Lia’s times in endurance events have dropped more significantly than her times in the sprints, and she is a much better sprinter post-transition than she was pre-transition.
We have no reason to doubt Lia’s word and her institution’s representation that she is eligible for team membership under the NCAA’s current rules, which require transgender women first to complete at least “one-year of testosterone suppression treatment.”
However, that standard was based on the hypothesis that one year of testosterone suppression would be sufficient to roll back a transgender woman’s male sex-linked performance advantages, or that waiting longer wouldn’t diminish those advantages further enough to justify holding an athlete out beyond that point. According to the hypothesis underlying the NCAA’s rule, rolling back male performance advantages should close the performance gap and result in an included athlete at least more-or-less returning to her place in the ranked hierarchy. For example, taking into account possible changes in an athlete’s ranking over time – changes that could come from normal development, training gains, injury, and other life circumstances – if she had been ranked around 5th in the nation as a male competing in the men’s division, one would expect she should
be ranked around 5th in the league or in the nation in the women’s division after a year of testosterone suppression.
These assumptions are what made the NCAA’s inclusion standard presumptively fair to individual female athletes and protective of the female category in general. They were to have ensured that a transgender athlete’s performance in women’s events wasn’t boosted by ongoing or residual male sex-linked advantages, and that moving from the men’s to the women’s division didn’t materially change how good an athlete is relative to her competitors.
The WSPWG assumes that in adopting its rule, the NCAA did not intend to sacrifice fairness to female athletes and the integrity of women’s sports by including transgender women whose physical transition was, for sports purposes, clearly insufficient.
The WSPWG has consistently supported the NCAA’s efforts to include transgender women in female events who have mitigated their male sex-linked performance advantages. It has also consistently supported the NCAA’s efforts to align its rules with those that apply in post-collegiate competition. Harmonization is important to ensure that American athletes can move successfully across the collegiate, Olympic, and professional sports systems. But new scientific evidence and results like Lia Thomas’s demonstrate that these rules need to be updated.
Going forward, the WSPWG encourages the NCAA to develop a transparent, representative process to ensure that its transgender eligibility rules are evidence-based and don’t undermine the fairness, equality, and safety goals that justify the women’s category. To these ends, we recommend specific attention to the following:
- Consultation with recognized experts in sex differences in human performance as well as experts in physiology, cardiology, and endocrinology.
- Consideration of the differential effects of testosterone suppression depending on the age at which treatment is begun, and on different sports and events.
- Consideration of the details of the suppression requirement. To date, to our knowledge, the rule does not specify that transgender women must suppress their testosterone levels into the female range, nor does it require that they keep their levels within that range throughout athlete’s competitive collegiate career. These conditions are necessary if mitigation is possibly to be effective. They are also necessary if the mitigation requirement is to be fair. A system that, under its eligibility rules, allows a transgender woman to tailor her testosterone levels according to her personal preferences but then, under its anti-doping rules, prohibits female athletes from doing the same, is not fair. The NCAA should align the doping and transgender eligibility rules, and clarify the details of the suppression requirement accordingly, so that transgender athletes do not have the advantages the anti-doping rules properly prohibit to female athletes, and so that the outcome of female competitions isn’t determined by the traits the category was designed to exclude.
- Adoption of a monitoring protocol to ensure compliance with the testosterone suppression requirement. The NCAA should rely on the necessary certifications concerning timing, levels, and consistency, reported by the athlete’s treating endocrinologist to ensure monitoring is not unnecessarily intrusive.
- Respectful accommodations for transgender athletes who have been included on teams but are periodically ineligible. Accommodations might include offsets, e.g., an extra exhibition lane, separate scoring and events, or team or individual handicaps, depending on the sport and event. Accommodations should be developed by experts in the affected sports and events.
Women’s sports are separate from men’s because of the physical, sex-linked differences between males as a group and females as a group. There is no alternative, defensible, non-sex-linked rationale for separate sex sport. Recognizing, respecting, and accommodating categorical sex-linked differences ensures that sport meets its social justice obligations to both female and transgender athletes, enables fair and safe competitive sport, and secures the integrity and viability of female sport.