Bethany College won’t comply with NAIA ban on men in women’s sports

Bethany College at Lindsborg is apparently the only NAIA school in the state to announce on the record it won’t comply with a new division ruling that prohibits men from competing in its women’s sporting events.

Bethany was one of 13 out of Kansas’ 15 NAIA schools that did not respond to the Kansas Informer’s email questions regarding the ruling or that opted to make no comment to our questions, but KWCH TV 12 in Wichita reported on an email the school sent to students on the topic which the station obtained earlier in April.

“The policy hinges on self-reporting by individual students and institutions,” the college said in an email to students, according to the story broadcast by KWCH. “At Bethany, we will not be requiring our student-athletes to prove their biological sex.” The email said the college believes the dignity and privacy of transgender athletes should be respected. 

The recent rule banning men who “identify” as women from competing in women’s collegiate athletic events will impact policies for several reticent academic institutions across the state.

Texas high school transgender wrestler Mack Braggs dominates a female competitor. /Denver Post photo

On Monday, April 8, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced its unanimous decision to ban the participation of transgender women, or cisgender males, in women’s athletic competitions. This marks the first time that a major college sports organization has moved to limit participation in women’s competitive sports (with the exception of competitive cheer and dance) entirely to biological women, according to a report from the Associated Press.

The NAIA is composed of 241 primarily private and religious institutions across the country. Combined with the NCAA, which oversees more than 1,000 larger public institutions, the NAIA accounts for only about 15% of the number of female college athletes in the nation, according to statistics from both organizations on athletic participation. This leaves the majority of American female college athletes at the risk of being challenged in competition by the opposite biological sex.

The NAIA ban followed several controversies over transgender women competing against and defeating cisgender women in amateur and collegiate sports. The most notable of these controversies involved Lia Thomas, who in 2022 won a NCAA Division I swimming event against a slew of champion female swimmers including an Olympic medalist. Thomas came out as transgender in 2019 after being unable to score similar wins against men.

In an interview with the Associated Press regarding the announcement, NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr said, “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. 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.”

Lia Thomas and Riley Gaines/NCAA photo

The ban, which will become effective in August, will assist NAIA athletes by alleviating disproportionate burdens on women seeking proper recognition for their achievements in athletic competitions. As previously proven, typical athletic training does not usually permit a female athlete to exceed the physical capacities of an equally-trained (or even unequally-trained) male regardless of the implementation of hormonal therapy.

NAIA officials additionally stated that while “the NAIA understands that legal action being taken to challenge the policy is a possibility…this policy is one our membership and board felt like [it] was the right decision.” The organization believes the ban will help eliminate the “competitive advantages for male student-athletes” in women’s sports.

Additional requests from the Kansas Informer for comments made to several of the affected Kansas schools’ athletic departments and President’s offices were not returned. The new NAIA policy takes effect in August.

Ursula Billings

Ursula Billings is a freelance writer for The Kansas Informer. She will graduate in May with a degree in Ag Business from Fort Hays State University and begin courses as a first-year law student at University of Kansas School of Law in August 2024.

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George Pisani

Though I’m not a Bethany alum, their Alumni page at https://www.bethanylb.edu/alumni proudly mentions contributions to the Bethany endowment accounts. It’ll be interesting to see how future fundraising goes after their decision. Perhaps there will be a great number of … shall we say UNHAPPY emails to alumni@bethanylb.edu .

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