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The NCAA drops the ball

Christiana Holcomb | And women are paying the price


The University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas celebrates after winning the first-place medal in the 200-yard freestyle final as third-place finisher Harvard University’s Molly Hamlin applauds during the awards presentation at the Ivy League women’s swimming and diving championships in Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 18. Associated Press/Photo by Mary Schwalm

The NCAA drops the ball
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The boardroom of the National Collegiate Athletic Association is evidently a dream world. With mounting pressure to change its policy on males competing in women’s sports, the NCAA shirked its responsibility to protect fair play and equal opportunity for women, opting instead for a fantasy world where everyone can play on the women’s team, and no one will get hurt. As NCAA Board Chairman John DeGioia stated, “We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

But in the real world, female collegiate athletes are calling foul. Anyone can see how unfair it is to ignore the scientific fact that men and women are not interchangeable—the biological reality that men hold significant physical advantages over women in athletics.

“There’s no way athletic administrators in every sport can’t see this,” said college sophomore and track athlete Chelsea Mitchell, who lost four state titles in high school to males who identified as females. “If biological males move into women’s competition, they will dominate whatever contests they enter.”

And dominating they are. At the University of Pennsylvania, 16 members of the swim team are speaking out about the “unfair advantage” male swimmer Lia Thomas holds over the female competitors. Thomas competed for three years on the men’s swim team as Will Thomas before identifying as female. Newly minted on the women’s team, Thomas has set multiple school and national records, including finishing an astonishing 38 seconds ahead of the next fastest teammate at a swim meet in Ohio.

In a recent letter sent to the university and the school’s athletic conference, the Ivy League, the swimmers point out that “biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.”

Penn swimmers’ parents concerned about their daughters’ welfare and athletic opportunities demanded the NCAA revisit its unfair policy. But the NCAA chose to put its hands over its ears to all these voices—you know, women standing for equality—and despite the infallible evidence and outcries for a fair sport, the NCAA’s new guidance still leaves women in the dust.

The right answer is to protect the female sports category by limiting it to biological women—a commonsense move a growing number of states are taking by law in the absence of leadership at the NCAA.

Rather than protect a separate female sports category, the NCAA punted the decision to each sport’s national governing body to set its own rules. The NCAA took a similar path as the International Olympic Committee when it rescinded its testosterone suppression threshold in November, leaving it up to each sport to determine eligibility.

Clearly, the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA recognize the failures of the testosterone suppression threshold. Watching Thomas’ 1,650-yard freestyle “women’s record” makes the best case for this. (We are told that Thomas underwent two years of testosterone suppression before competing on the women’s team.) Multiple studies have shown males continue to hold a large physical advantage over females, even when suppressing their testosterone. Muscular advantage is only minimally reduced when testosterone is suppressed, and males still run 12 percent faster than their female counterparts after two years of feminizing hormones.

Although the sport’s governing body, USA Swimming, recently issued new, stricter measures for men who want to compete on women’s teams, it still pretends that testosterone suppression could solve the unfairness. But even that was too much for the NCAA, which quickly swooped back in, despite having left it up to each sport, to say it was going to review USA Swimming’s policy ahead of the NCAA Division I championships later this month, where Penn’s Lia Thomas is the presumed favorite, again.

Even some of those advocating for males who identify as female to be able to join women’s teams are criticizing the NCAA’s policy change. It’s cumbersome and vague for everyone, including Thomas. The NCAA had the ball and dropped it. Ultimately, its solution will result in fewer opportunities for women.

The right answer is to protect the female sports category by limiting it to biological women—a commonsense move a growing number of states are taking by law in the absence of leadership at the NCAA. There are currently seven states that have passed legislation to protect women’s sports at the collegiate level, with South Dakota most recently stepping up to the plate. Several more states have introduced bills that are working their way through their legislatures.

It’s a strange day indeed when we have to defend the differences between men and women. What was once self-evident truth is not only being questioned but denied—considered outdated and bigoted. If only the NCAA would look to God’s flawless design for humankind to find the solution: a beautiful distinction, and equality, between the sexes.


Christiana Kiefer

Christiana Kiefer is legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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