Ivy League executive director Robin Harris: NCAA 'missed opportunity' with new transgender athlete policy

Ivy League executive director Robin Harris on Tuesday condemned the changes made last week to the NCAA's transgender athlete policy. She criticized the speed of the process and the policy's immediate effect, calling it "unprecedented."

"I was shocked; I was dismayed; And I was angry," Harris said. "The NCAA has never, in my 30 years, implemented a new policy that could negatively impact a student-athlete's eligibility immediately. And that is what they've done here."

The NCAA adopted a new policy affecting the eligibility of transgender athletes on Jan. 19. Instead of a uniform policy applying across all sports, the NCAA will use the policies of national governing bodies, which means requirements will vary by sport.

Penn swimmer Lia Thomas has posted some of the best times in the country in the 200-yard, 500-yard, and 1,650-yard freestyle events. Thomas, who is transgender, will be eligible to swim at the Ivy League championships Feb. 16-19, unless an update to FINA and USA Swimming policies render her ineligible. She has qualified for the NCAA championships in the 200 and 500 after posting the nation's top times in those events at a meet in early December.

Critics of Thomas -- who swam on the Penn men's team for three seasons -- allege she has an unfair advantage.

"It's clear to me that the publicity and the success that Lia [Thomas] has been having elevated this issue at the NCAA," Harris said. "I do believe that the NCAA missed an opportunity to be a leader, and instead tried to avoid having the NCAA policy be the focus of the attention, because Lia has met the NCAA policy that had been in existence for over a decade."

Thomas will not take part in the Quakers' final meet against West Chester University on Friday. A Penn spokesperson said Thomas' absence, along with a handful of other student athletes, was a planned rest day and "had nothing to do with the NCAA regulations."