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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Athletics Department “appears to be in compliance with Title IX’s equitable treatment provisions,” according to the first annual report produced by a compliance monitor the university was required to obtain last year as part of a settlement of a gender equity lawsuit.
Gabriel Feldman, a sports law professor with Tulane University and director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, assessed UI Athletics’ compliance in 13 areas and largely found no “material issues” across the board. Only the UI’s women’s gymnastics facility “is not on par with the impressive facilities used by most of the other UI teams,” he found.
“The existing facility has limited gym space, inadequate locker room and restroom facilities, limited facilities for strength and conditioning or training and recovery on site, and limited temperature and humidity controls,” according to Feldman’s report — posted Saturday afternoon on the UI Athletics’ website, barely meeting the settlement deadline of “no later than. Oct. 1.”
“This facility did not create an inequity for men and women until the men’s team was eliminated,” Feldman wrote, referencing the UI’s decision to cut men’s gymnastics, tennis and swimming and diving after the 2020-21 academic year due to pandemic-compelled fiscal losses.
And, he noted, UI plans for a new $7 to $9 million gymnastics and spirit squad training center should resolve those facility inequities. The university received Board of Regents permission last November to start planning the project, to be fully funded with gifts, although UI Athletics hasn’t brought back to the board plans, a budget or construction timeline for that project in the year since.
The department’s announcement in August 2020 that tens of millions in losses from the pandemic gave it no choice but to drop not just the three men’s sports but also women’s swimming and diving precipitated Feldman’s appointment as UI Title IX monitor.
Several female swimmers sued the school, accusing it of gender equity law violations aggravated by their team’s elimination. As part of their suit, the women tapped the Title IX expertise of Sports Management Resources President Donna Lopiano, who found the UI out of compliance with the law.
A federal judge, after considering the women’s arguments and Lopiano’s testimony, ordered the UI to temporarily reinstate women’s swimming and diving, pending the outcome of the litigation, finding reason to believe the swimmers could win their case. Nine months later, the settled with the women — agreeing to, among other things, permanently reinstate their sport for at least seven years; add women’s wrestling; cap the women’s rowing roster; and hire Feldman to monitor their ongoing compliance with federal Title IX gender equity requirements.
Although Feldman was appointed a year ago, his report made public Saturday showed he conducted a site visit at the UI just weeks ago on Aug. 26. During his visit, Feldman toured athletics facilities and met with coaches and staff. He also evaluated data regarding gender equity at the UI, reviewed internal handbooks and policies and was given an opportunity to speak with athletes.
In assessing whether the UI meets the Title IX mandate to provide athletics opportunities for men and women “substantially proportionate” to the campus’ full-time male and female undergraduate enrollment, Feldman found the university last year was close and is on the right track — putting it in compliance.
“Substantial, not exact, proportionality is required,” he noted, pointing to a growing female swimming roster and the addition of women’s wrestling — both changes compelled by the settlement.
Last academic year, 52 percent of Iowa’s 780 athletic participation opportunities went to women, while its full-time undergraduate enrollment was 56 percent female. Given its women’s swimming roster has swelled from 13 last year to 22 this year, with plans to grow to about 30, and women’s wrestling is set to start competing next year with a roster of 30-some, “female participation will substantially increase this year and the following years, and it thus appears that UI will comply.”
Feldman’s assessment looked only at last year and did not review the Hawkeyes’ historical compliance. Lopiano’s “expert report” did, however, and found non-compliance every year back to at least 2003. The largest percentage shortfall was 11 percent in 2005-2006, when female athletes made up 42 percent of the opportunities, compared with their 53 undergraduate representation at the time, according to Lopiano.
Her report found that in 2020-21 — before the three men’s sports officially were eliminated — UI female athlete opportunities were 8t percentage points shy, at 47 percent to their 55 percent undergrad representation.
Regarding the Title IX requirement schools offer proportionally equal amounts of financial assistance to male and female student athletes, Feldman in his new report found that “UI appears to have achieved nearly exact proportionality in 2021-2022.”
He reported 52 percent of UI’s 612 unduplicated student-athletes were women, and women received 53 percent of UI Athletics’ $11.3 million in student aid, “which complies with Title IX’s athletic financial assistance requirements.”
When looking at equitable equipment and supplies; game and practice scheduling; travel allowances; academic tutoring access; locker room and competition facilities; medical and training services; housing and dining facilities; publicity; recruitment; and support services, “There do not appear to be any material issues” or “meaningful differences,” his report found.
He came to the same conclusion on coaching assignment and compensation.
“There do not appear to be any material issues regarding the compensation of coaches that could deny male or female student-athletes access to coaching of equivalent quality, nature, or availability,” he wrote.
Feldman committed to continue serving as UI’s Title IX monitor for the next two years — as was outlined in the settlement.
“I also understand that UI will continue to monitor its Title IX compliance and make adjustments as issues may arise,” he wrote.
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