". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Small Colleges Pile Pressure on the NCAA with ‘Huge’ NAIA Sports Shift

April 10, 2024

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark may have hung up her yellow and black Nikes, but the game she’s leaving behind is forever changed. For most people, the explosion of this year’s NCAA tournament was a coming-out party for the girls — a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get America’s attention. Now, in the afterglow of Cleveland and all it represented for female athletes, at least one collegiate association is determined to keep the excitement alive — and putting plenty of pressure on Charlie Baker’s NCAA to follow.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is the governing body of 249 mostly private small colleges around the country that don’t compete in the NCAA’s three divisions. Ever since Lia Thomas took home a women’s title in 2022, their task force has been studying the damage biological men can do to girls’ sports. They’ve reviewed research, met with experts, and talked to their member schools — ultimately coming to the conclusion that allowing trans-identifying kids to compete would ruin their women’s programs.

On Monday, they made a blockbuster announcement — the first of its kind for a U.S. collegiate sports body. The day after South Carolina’s lady Gamecocks took home the NCAA women’s title, the NAIA rolled out a new policy protecting teams from the injustice of competing against biological men.

“We know there are a lot of different opinions out there,” NAIA President Jim Carr told CBS Sports. “For us, we believed our first responsibility was to create fairness and competition in the NAIA. ... We also think it aligns with the reasons Title IX was created. You’re allowed to have separate but equal opportunities for women to compete.”

The policy, which passed unanimously (20-0), replaces the old guidelines that allowed trans-identifying players to compete until the post-season. In a survey of member schools leading up to the change, 58 of the 67 campuses who responded agreed that girls’ privacy, opportunities, and titles demanded protection.

“We are unwavering in our support of fair competition for our student-athletes,” Carr explained in a statement. “It is crucial that NAIA member institutions, conferences, and student-athletes participate in an environment that is equitable and respectful. With input from our member institutions and the Transgender Task Force, the NAIA’s Council of Presidents has confirmed our path forward.”

In an interesting twist, the NAIA does allow for girls to compete on men’s teams and leaves cheerleading and competitive dance untouched by the change. “It’s important to know that the male sports are open to anyone,” Carr pointed out. The goal, the association’s leaders acknowledged, was to provide some space for trans-identifiers to play without impacting the sanctity of women’s records and opportunities.

Family Research Council’s Mary Szoch, who played Division I basketball at Notre Dame, thought the exception exposed what a lopsided fight this is. “It isn’t typically a problem for a woman to compete on a man’s team because most women are just not physically capable of doing so,” she insisted. “In the rare instances when that does happen, typically either (or in many cases both): 1. The woman is a beyond exceptional athlete. 2. The female version of that sport is unavailable. While a woman playing a man’s sport may injure a man’s pride, a man playing a woman’s sport will likely injure a woman’s body,” Szoch pointed out. “Men who choose to play women’s sports can be mediocre male athletes and still dominate in the women’s division. The playing field is not equal because of biological differences. If, however, a woman is playing a man’s sport, she must overcome those biological differences in order to succeed.”

Regardless, Szoch said, “The NAIA has taken a huge step to protect women and women’s sports. By only allowing biological women to compete, the NAIA ensures that women will compete on an equal playing field. Since the passage of Title IX, women’s sports have given girls the opportunity to succeed athletically, and the lessons learned from high level athletics have carried over to many other aspects of women’s lives. Hopefully the NAIA’s decision will encourage the NCAA to take a stand as well.”

So far, the drumbeat has been intense for Baker’s organization to follow suit. Virginia Lt. Governor Winsome Sears (R) cheered the NAIA’s decision, saying, “Common sense prevails today. It’s more than time for the NCAA to do the same.” But Baker, who’s been in the hot seat everywhere from Congress to campuses, has seemed shockingly indifferent to the biggest battle in modern sports.

Kaitlynn Wheeler, one of the women who’s been forced to sue the NCAA with Riley Gaines for the harm the group has inflicted with its pro-trans policy, insisted the decision by the NAIA was “huge.” “They made the right call — unlike the NCAA who has previously admitted that they haven’t done enough research on the subject,” the University of Kentucky swimmer wanted people to know. “[And] frankly, I don’t think opening a biology textbook is really that hard.”

“[They] took the bold first move here, and that’s what real leadership looks like. All eyes are on the NCAA now,” she declared.

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.