Did three Hawkeyes teams have to be cut?

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Bruce Harreld, then president of the University of Iowa, shakes hands with Iowa athletic director Gary Barta before a football game in 2018 at Kinnick Stadium (The Gazette)

The University of Iowa’s men’s gymnastics, tennis, swimming and diving teams had their last competitions in the spring. They are gone now, probably forever.

What remains in some circles is doubt that UI removal of sports was necessary or whether the university made an effort to prevent it.

The Iowa women’s swimming and diving program was cut from the other three programs last year, but was reinstated in February. It was two months after a federal judge found that four IU swimmers had a “good chance” of winning a lawsuit accusing the university of violating Title IX.

In a joint open letter last August, IU Director of Athletics Gary Barta and President Bruce Harreld announced their intention to discontinue all four programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

It was a response to an alleged budget deficit of up to $ 75 million caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the expected loss of televised money from televised football games in 2020. The Big Ten canceled his football decision in September and nine weeks of football were played, as well as boules.

On September 23, Barta said, “The good news did not solve the problem. “

“These sports are closed,” said Harreld, whose last day as UI president was May 16.

Nonetheless, a group of alumni, athlete parents and other sports supporters have formed Save Hawkeye Sports, with the aim of finding funding for the cut programs and a plan to stabilize them in the future.

In an email to Matt Purdy, swimming parent and former Iowa football player, Harreld noted Stanford plans to cut 11 sports at the end of the school year and Minnesota is cutting three men’s athletic programs. .

“Lots of other announcements will follow soon,” Harreld told Purdy.

While many smaller NCAA Division I schools cut sports last year during the pandemic, only Iowa, Minnesota and the state of Michigan have done so among the 65 schools. of the five major DI conferences.

Stanford, a private institution, has reinstated all of its cut sports. Minnesota did not. The state of Michigan has reduced swimming and diving for men and women. Clemson ditched men’s athletics only to later re-establish it and add two women’s sports.

So, Iowa, Minnesota and the State of Michigan are the only programs that cut the sport among the 65 schools of the five major conferences of Division I.

So what was so different about Iowa from almost every other Power Five program?

“I think a very small group of people, starting with the president and athletic director of Iowa, made a silo decision. I don’t know who else attended, but it was a smaller group than it should have been. And they were reactionary in the way it was done.

It was said by Mark Kaufman, an executive at Save Hawkeye Sports and founder and executive chairman of Athletico Physical Therapy, based in Oak Brook, Illinois. Athletico provides physiotherapy and occupational therapy, athletic training, and personal fitness services at more than 545 locations across the United States. , including several in eastern Iowa.

Kaufman grew up in Olds, 38 miles south of Iowa City. He graduated from IU in 1986 with a degree in athletic training and physical education. He opened his first clinic in Chicago in 1991.

One of her daughters, Christina Kaufman, was on the Iowa women’s swim team in 2020-21. She and three teammates filed a Title IX complaint last September.

In December, District Judge Stephanie Rose ruled in their favor. This prevented Iowa from removing the women’s team until there was a full hearing on the merits of the case. The team was reinstated in February.

All three men’s sports teams perished, however.

“I heard Barta say that he has met us several times,” Kaufman said. “I had a discussion with him the Wednesday following the announcement. He told us at the start of the conversation, as did President Harreld to myself and the other two people on the appeal, that these decisions were final and that there was nothing to discuss.

“That’s how the conversation started. This is the openness with which we worked. They did our group a favor by engaging with us, but Barta’s staff who were part of those discussions were not really supportive.

More than six months after cutting sports, UI announced that it would transfer $ 50 million from its cash reserves to its normally self-sufficient athletics department in the form of a loan to be repaid over the next 15 years. .

Undeniably, the Iowa athletics have faced financial hardship after a year of less TV money and no ticket sales due to the pandemic. Barta has cut staff in the athletics department, asked employees to take mandatory time off, and nearly every head coach in Iowa has suffered a voluntary one-year pay cut.

“I think the work Barta has done with her time off or her salary management or her cuts should be looked at with a high level of scrutiny,” Kaufman said.

“My bet is that he got rid of some people he wanted to get rid of a long time ago and played a bit of a shell game with temporary layoffs and time off that didn’t really amount to not much, although he hung his hat on major holidays, major cuts.

“I would love to have a legal accounting of the approach taken by Iowa compared to other schools.”

On August 21, Barta broke the news to members of the four teams Iowa planned to cut in a brief speech.

“What kind of college, what kind of athletic director, what kind of leader is doing that to these kids without any preparation,” Kaufman asked, “without going to alumni like me or going to coaches and saying ‘Hey, we are in a pickle, we have serious work to do, we need your help, we need to find ways not only to cut costs in the long run, but in the short run. Let’s find this together. And if we can’t get there in nine months, six months, we may have to quit the sport.

“It is challenging and allows the head coaches to go out and get down to business rather than bringing in four and cutting them off.”

When varsity athletics was halted last March due to the pandemic, Barta said “the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and staff are the top priority.” Five months later, many of these student-athletes and staff were considered consumables.

“It’s just very interesting that Iowa doesn’t have the means, the leadership or the pre-pandemic preparedness to allow something to protect the athletes,” Kaufman said, “which was my comment at the start, y understood during a videoconference with Barta and Harreld.

“I said the last thing a sports department should do is cut sports programming. Why is there a sports department or a sports director? It seemed to me that the most important thing they did was run to announce the end of these sports. “

When asked what he would have done in Barta’s place, Kaufman replied, “I, like any other person, am not perfect and I have made my share of mistakes.

“I would have brought together people from college, fundraising, alumni, coaching. I would have had a lot of people in the room, I would have had a lot of discussion, I would have been as transparent as possible with the information I had and I would have tried to create a way forward which I knew , was going to change.

“You wouldn’t get all of the correct actions. Nobody is perfect. I would do my best to honor my commitment to the athletes, parents and coaches, the department and the university to support all of these groups and move forward in the future of athletics in Iowa and future Hawkeyes in the State and out of state, as they all become ambassadors of universities.

“When I look at the controversies over tenure, case settlements and contracts and negotiated settlements with the outstanding cases, I just can’t understand why someone is playing the role of (Barta). I can’t understand why someone hasn’t looked at this for a long time, and I hope the new president will. “

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