NCAA committee's recommendation clears way for Penn's Lia Thomas to compete at women's swim championships

Penn swimmer Lia Thomas will be allowed to compete at the 2022 women’s swimming and diving championships as long as she meets the NCAA's current testosterone thresholds.

An NCAA subcommittee said Thursday that it didn’t recommend any changes to its testosterone threshold rules for women swimmers. Thomas swims for Penn's women's team after she previously competed on the men's team for three seasons.

"Based on the transgender student-athlete participation policy approved in January and the NCAA testosterone thresholds approved thereafter, the Administrative Subcommittee of the [Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports] reviewed USA Swimming's new testosterone threshold," the NCAA said in a statement. "The subcommittee decided implementing additional changes at this time could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women's swimming championships."

Scroll to continue with content

The recommendation comes after the NCAA said that it would start deferring to sports’ governing bodies regarding rules for transgender athletes. At the time of the NCAA’s statement, U.S. Swimming didn’t have a policy in place for transgender swimmers and the NCAA said that its new guidelines would be phased in ahead of the 2023-24 school year.

After the NCAA's statement, U.S. Swimming updated its policy and its changes could have prevented Thomas from competing. She has taken hormone replacement therapy since the spring of 2019 and U.S. Swimming's new policy requires transgender athletes to have a testosterone level of 5 nmol/L over three consecutive years.

However, the NCAA said Thursday in a release that the new policy “will be part of the subcommittee’s future analysis when recommending additional updates to eligibility requirements” in future school years. In its January policy, the NCAA said "Transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport's championship selections," clearing the way for Thomas to compete at the NCAA championships as long as she met the thresholds in 2022.

Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, swims for the University of Pennsylvania at an Ivy League swim meet against Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 22, 2022. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)
Lia Thomas has set Penn records this swim season. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Thomas' eligibility criticized by some teammates

Thomas has broken two school records this swim season and has the fastest times in the nation in the 200 and 500-yard freestyle events.


Her success hasn’t been well-received by all members of her own team. Sixteen of Thomas’ teammates wrote an anonymous letter to the school and the Ivy League earlier in the month saying that Thomas had an unfair advantage and should be barred from competing. Penn, meanwhile, said Thomas had the school’s “full support” after a teammate was critical of her on Fox News.

That criticism from within her own team helped lead 300 swimmers from across the country to issue an open letter in support of Thomas to the NCAA on Thursday. In it, they asked for the NCAA to not implement the new U.S. Swimming rules right away.

"We ask the following: 1) do not adopt USA Swimming’s current policy mid-season; 2) establish clear and consistent guidelines for developing and adopting new eligibility policies, and ensure those policies are adopted and communicated well in advance of the season; and 3) ensure that transgender and nonbinary athletes are directly engaged in the policy development process," the swimmers wrote.

"We love swimming for the lifelong, invaluable lessons it has taught us about hard work, discipline, and the power of being part of a team. No one should be denied the opportunity to have their life changed through swimming simply because of who they are."