NCAA to Review USA Swimming’s New Policy for Transgender Athletes

Though the NCAA moves notoriously slowly on legislative matters and is not scheduled to meet until April, Dent said the board could meet earlier in a remote format, possibly in advance of the NCAA swimming championships, which begin in Atlanta on March 16.

Robin Harris, the executive director of the Ivy League, said the NCAA’s willingness to change eligibility standards in the middle of a season was unprecedented and ill-considered.

“It’s wrong. It’s unfair,” Harris said. “This is a perfect example of the risks and the uncertainty that is created when the NCAA chose to implement a policy immediately without any specificity. This is reactionary and it creates uncertainty, and the impact it creates on our transgender athletes is something I’m concerned about.”

What has caught the eye of experts about the USA Swimming guidelines is the requirement that a transgender woman maintain a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per liter, down from 10 nanomoles per liter, for 36 months before being able to compete in women’s events. Most sports require their benchmarks to be met for 12 months, though some require as much as 24 months. (The NCAA requires transgender women to be on hormone therapy for 12 months before they are eligible to compete in women’s divisions.)

“There is just no justification for three years,” said Joanna Harper, a visiting fellow for transgender athletic performance at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. While Harper generally supports testosterone requirements for transgender athletes, she said a 36-month requirement was unprecedented and not based on any science to date.

Suppressing testosterone in transgender women decreases hemoglobin levels within the first few months of hormone therapy, affecting how much oxygen can be carried in red blood cells. It also decreases muscle mass. Though such changes typically occur more slowly, the largest changes in strength occur over the first year, Harper said. In her own experience as a transgender woman and as a long-distance runner, Harper said she saw her competitive advantage decline after nine months of hormone therapy.

Katrina Karkazis, an author of the book “Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography,” said the focus on testosterone testing for transgender athletes is misplaced given how murky the science is. “You cannot single out the effect of any one biovariable on a complex athletic performance,” she said.

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