SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Gov. Kristi Noem announced a new “nationwide” coalition to “Defend Title IX.”

During a news conference Monday morning in Sioux Falls, Noem announced the coalition is being created separate from the controversy surrounding House Bill 1217, which would ban transgender girls from participating in high schools sports. The coalition, according to Noem, is comprised of athletes, leaders and “everyone who cares about defending women’s sports.”

Noem hinted at the purpose of the new coalition, saying that once enough states are on board, the coalition will be big enough that the NCAA “cannot possibly punish us all.”

Recently, a letter signed by more than 500 current college athletes, including a cross country runner from the University of South Dakota, was sent to the NCAA calling for the organization to uphold a anti-discrimination policy and “only operate NCAA championships and events only in states that promote an inclusive atmosphere.” 

Noem avoided signing the bill last week, sending it back to the legislature by a ‘style and form veto,’ with suggested revisions she wants the legislature to enact.

Throughout the conference, Noem maintained her view that 1217 is not an anti-transgender bill, but was simply about “defending women’s sports.” When asked if she believes her new coalition would affect transgender people in South Dakota, Noem reiterated that her focus was on protecting girl’s sports, and that any attempt to frame it as a transgender issue would be inaccurate.

Speakers at the news conference included Noem, former NFL players Hershel Walker and Jack Brewer, and a hand full of other concerned individuals. Following Noem’s introduction of the new coalition, Noem’s guests spoke about their experiences in high school and collegiate sports and rodeo. A constant theme throughout was the expression of praise for Noem, as each guest took time to thank her for her attention to this issue.

During a question toward the end of the conference about the potential effect of this bill on transgender students, Walker interjected, asking “who would you consider transgender.” He attempted to drive home his point by describing a scenario where he could claim to be a woman, and compete in the Olympics.

Both the NCAA and the South Dakota High School Activities Association currently have policies in place to prevent this sort of manipulation of the system. Under NCAA rules, a transgender woman must complete one full year of testosterone suppression therapy before being allowed to compete on a women’s team. The SDHSAA has a waiver-based system which requires extensive documentation, including written statements from parents/guardians, demonstrating the student’s consistent gender identification and expression.

Asked about concern over the affect this bill’s passage could have on South Dakota’s economy, Noem said that with the changes she has asked for, she is not worried about any adverse effects, and reaffirmed that she is still excited about signing the bill.

If lawmakers agree to Noem’s changes to the bill, the measure will only need a simple majority to become law. It will no longer need the Governor’s signature.

KELOLAND News will have more coverage on HB 1217 and reaction to Gov. Noem’s announcement online and on-air Monday.