Higher Education

NCAA threatens Oklahoma over transgender athletes

April 13, 2021

Ray Carter

In a newly released statement, the NCAA Board of Governors indicates it may not allow college championships to be held in Oklahoma unless the state requires female athletes to compete against transgender athletes—those born male who now identify as female.

One lawmaker who benefited from an athletic scholarship in college said the state should be willing to forgo those events to preserve an even playing field in women’s athletics.

“We all want to promote business and economic development opportunities in our state and our local communities, and we certainly love athletics,” said state Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa. “But we cannot sacrifice our Oklahoma values, which include fairness in sport and the protection of opportunities for women and girls in Oklahoma, for the sake of dollars or even the popularity of such events.”

In its statement, the NCAA Board of Governors declared that it “firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” saying that allowing those individuals to compete in women’s athletic events is “grounded” in the value of “fair competition.”

The question of “fair competition” is at the center of the debate over transgender participation in women’s sporting events. Critics note there are significant differences between male and female bodies that provide an athletic advantage to males.

Research conducted by Doriane Lambelet Coleman and Wickliffe Shreve, both of Duke Law School, found that even some teenage boys post better times in athletic events than the world’s best adult female athletes. For example, in 2017 there were 285 boys younger than 18 who ran faster times in the 400-meter race than the best time posted by an adult woman that year, and 4,341 men age 18 and older posted faster times.

“The results make clear that sex determines win share,” Coleman and Shreve wrote. “Female athletes—here defined as athletes with ovaries instead of testes and testosterone (T) levels capable of being produced by the female, non-androgenized body—are not competitive for the win against males—here defined as athletes with testes and T levels in the male range.”

“The NCAA continuously tries to flex its muscles and reshape state’s rights and individual values. This is an opportunity for Oklahoma to stand strong on this issue.” —State Rep. Sheila Dills

The NCAA statement stressed that the organization’s policy “requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports.”

However, some research indicates the athletic advantages of male bodies are not eliminated by hormone treatment.

One study published in March 2020 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that even after a year of hormone treatment transgender women “generally maintained their strength levels.” A similar study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the athletic advantages recorded by transgender women prior to hormone treatment were reduced by hormone treatment, but that “transwomen still had a 9% faster mean run speed after the 1 year period of testosterone suppression that is recommended by World Athletics for inclusion in women’s events.”

In its statement, the NCAA Board of Governors suggested states like Oklahoma could be blackballed from hosting championship events if transgender athletes are not allowed to compete against girls and women.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, health,y and free of discrimination should be selected,” the group’s statement declared. “We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

The NCAA’s announcement comes after a state House committee advanced Senate Bill 2, which creates the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The legislation’s key provision states, “Athletic teams designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’ shall not be open to students of the male sex.”

Dills is a co-author of that legislation and was a scholarship athlete at Oklahoma State University from 1985 to 1989. She later served on the coaching staff as a recruiting coach and is past president of the Women’s Oklahoma Golf Association.

Dills said Oklahoma lawmakers should ignore the NCAA.

“Title IX, federal civil rights law, specifically protects women and girls based on the intent of the definition of biological sex. A small section of the population wants to cloud that intent,” Dills said. “The NCAA continuously tries to flex its muscles and reshape state’s rights and individual values. More than half of the states in our nation have drafted similar legislation, and this is an opportunity for Oklahoma to stand strong on this issue and provide leadership for others to follow.”