New NAIA policy significantly restricts transgender athletes from women’s sports

On Monday, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics introduced a policy that significantly restricts transgender athletes' participation in women's sports across its 241 predominantly small colleges nationwide.

The NAIA Council of Presidents unanimously approved the policy, 20-0, during its annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri. As an organization overseeing more than 83,000 athletes competing in over 25 sports, the NAIA's decision marks a notable departure within the realm of college sports governance.

What the new policy states

Under the transgender participation policy set to take effect in August, all athletes can engage in NAIA-sponsored male sports. 

However, in women's sports, only athletes assigned female at birth and not undergoing hormone therapy are eligible to participate. Students undergoing hormone therapy are permitted to engage in workouts, practices, and team activities, but are excluded from intercollegiate competition.

NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr said in an interview with The Associated Press he understands the policy will generate controversy but that it was deemed best for member schools for competitive reasons.

"We know there are a lot of opinions, and a lot of people have a very emotional reaction to this, and we want to be respectful of all that," Carr said. "But we feel like our primary responsibility is fairness in competition, so we are following that path. And we've tried as best we could to allow for some participation by all."

States banning transgender athletes from women's sports

24 states have laws prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in certain women's or girls' sports competitions. 

The Biden administration initially intended to issue a new federal Title IX rule, which addresses both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. However, the rule regarding athletics is currently in a state of uncertainty after the Department of Education separated the two issues earlier this year.

What the NCAA is doing about it

In the previous month, a federal lawsuit was filed against the NCAA by over a dozen current and former college athletes. They allege that the sports governing body, representing over 500,000 athletes, violated their rights by permitting transgender women to compete in women's sports.

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women’s sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women’s sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

"It’s similar to the NIL stuff with all these different state laws," said Kasey Havekost, a former Division I athlete who is now a higher education attorney at Bricker Graydon. "The NCAA kind of does something but nothing really happens, and they look to the federal government, and the federal government is slow to put something in place and then we’re left with all these different state laws."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.