The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is receiving backlash from parents and women's sports advocates for its sport-by-sport change to its transgender athlete policy, which puts it in line with the policies of the U.S. and International Olympic Committees (IOC).
Criticism is mounting from all sides, including parents and female athletes, as well as transgender former Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Caitlyn Jenner and Olympic swimming icon Michael Phelps.
Under the new guidelines, approved by the NCAA Board of Governors on Wednesday, transgender participation for each sport will be determined by the policy for the sport's national governing body.
When there is no national governing body, that sport's international federation policy would be in place. If there is no international federation policy, previously established IOC policy criteria would take over.
The NCAA policy is effective immediately.
The former NCAA rule required biological men who identify as females to undergo testosterone suppression treatments for at least a year before being permitted to compete on women's sports teams.
NBC News reports the new guidelines lack clarity and could be difficult to enforce. For example, transgender swimmers will ask USA Swimming for eligibility rules. The organization does not have such a policy online and did not respond to a request for comment from the outlet.
In a statement, the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) chastised the NCAA for dodging the opportunity to "lead an important discussion." The CSCAA said, "Yesterday's Board of Governors' decision is not a solution."
As CBN News has reported, swimmer Lia Thomas, who is biologically male but identifies as female, has been obliterating records previously held by biologically female athletes, receiving scorn from fellow UPenn swimmers who take issue with Thomas' presence on the women's team.
The teammates have reportedly become agitated and emotional, knowing that Thomas had a clear advantage and would outpace them during the matches.
One UPenn parent, who remained anonymous, told Fox News his daughter and "a good number" of her teammates believe they will no longer be able to compete fairly with Thomas on their team. He said there's been a lot of "crying on the pool deck" over the situation.
"They don't agree with what Lia's doing and they're really unhappy with the situation," he said. "Morale is bad."
The NCAA rule change is a "cop-out," the swimmer's father said and called for USA Swimming to toughen the rules.
"The onus is now on USA Swimming to do something, and it's my hope they have the courage to do the right thing and put stricter limits than what the current IOC policy states," he told the outlet.
"USA Swimming oversees all swimming in the United States, and I think if they really have courage they could craft a policy in such a way that tells little girls that USA Swimming has their best interests as well – that USA Swimming doesn't only care about collegiate swimmers and international swimmers and so forth," he continued. "Because this is a situation that could potentially affect hundreds and thousands of kids."
But many of the girls on the UPenn swim team are afraid to speak out because any opposition is called transphobic, he said.
Another parent of a student at UPenn described the transgender situation as "messed up," adding, "I can't wrap my head around this. The NCAA needs to do something about this. They need to put science into the decision and discussion."
A Question of Fairness - Caitlyn Jenner and Michael Phelps Weigh In
Biological women athletes received support this week from former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, who became a gold medalist while competing as a man named Bruce Jenner. Now Jenner is arguing against biological men participating in women's sports
"We need to protect women's sport," Jenner said in an interview with Fox News.
Jenner said while she respects Thomas' decision to live her life as she wants, that decision also comes with some responsibility and integrity.
"I don't know why she's doing this," Jenner said. Thomas competing in women's sports, Jenner said, is not good for the transgender community.
"She knows when she's swimming she's beating the competition by two laps. She was born a biological boy," the former Olympic star pointed out. "She was raised as a biological boy. Her cardiovascular system is bigger, her respiratory system is bigger, her hands are bigger, she can swim faster. That's a known."
Another celebrity athlete also weighed in this week on the issue of transgenders competing in women's sports.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps added his voice to the debate, telling CNN everyone should "feel comfortable" in their "own skin," but said the sports world needs "to be a level playing field."
Phelps made the comments after CNN's Christiane Amanpour asked the legendary Olympian about Lia Thomas' victories in women's swimming.
"I mean, look, like, I will say I can talk from a standpoint of doping, I don't think I have competed in a clean field in my entire career," Phelps told Amanpour. "So, I think this leads back to the organizing committees again because it has to be a level playing field. I think that's something that we all need, because it's — like, that's what sports are. And, for me, I don't know where this is going to go. I don't know what's going to happen. I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but I think sports should all be played an even playing field. I don't know what that looks like in the future. But it's hard. It's a really — honestly, I don't know what to say."
Phelps went on to say the situation is "very complicated" but reiterated the importance of establishing "an even playing field" for all athletes, regardless of their sexual or gender identities.
Both UPenn and The Ivy League recently reaffirmed their respective commitments to the inclusion of transgender athletes in women's swimming.