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IOWA CITY — As part of the University of Iowa’s deal to settle a lawsuit accusing it of federal gender equity violations, the institution has agreed to pay “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs” of nearly $400,000 and maintain a women’s swimming and diving team for at least seven more years.
And it will hire an outside monitor to report publicly on how the Athletics Department is living up to the Title IX gender equity requirements.
The payout includes $307,545 for legal fees and $92,444.14 for expert witnesses — including $41,650 for Donna Lopiano, president of the consulting practice Sports Management Resources, whose testimony had upbraided the UI over its Title IX compliance.
The full settlement in the lawsuit accusing UI Athletics of violating the law by not providing equal female athletic opportunities, benefits and scholarships — obtained Wednesday by The Gazette — includes these stipulations:
- The UI, which in February reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program it cut after a judge stepped in and temporarily halted the elimination, now must commit to keeping the team “for no less than seven years.”
- Although the UI last month announced it has “voluntarily decided” to add women’s wrestling, the agreement “memorializes certain assurances,” including that the department post the head coaching job opening and conduct a national search, with a targeted hiring date of by spring 2022.
Recruiting for the wrestling team will start immediately. And the first recruited athletes will start arriving on campus in the 2022-2023 academic year.
“Competition is expected to begin in 2023-2024 once requisite recruiting has occurred,” according to the settlement. The UI will maintain a roster of about 30 female athletes and allocate the NCAA maximum-allowed scholarships to women’s wrestling.
“It is anticipated that defendants’ commitment will be a high-profile, national-leadership step in providing women with NCAA wrestling opportunities,” according to the settlement, adding Iowa will “make reasonable efforts to promote the sport and persuade other division I schools to add women’s wrestling for a competitive schedule.”
- The UI agreed to maintain a three-year rolling cap of 75 total members on its women’s rowing team.
- The UI will hire Gabriel Feldman of Tulane University to be a monitor of the UI’s Title IX compliance for three years. He will keep a check on all three aspects of Title IX compliance: equal participation opportunities, equal benefits and treatment and equal scholarship opportunities.
Feldman also will issue an annual report publicly “on his findings with respect to each of these areas and provide input on any Title IX failings.” The report must be posted on the UI Athletics website no later than Oct. 1 every year. The first report is due Oct. 1, 2022.
Athletes agree to drop lawsuit
Under the deal, the plaintiffs — six female athletes who either demanded their eliminated swimming and diving program be reinstated or asked the UI to add more women’s sports like wrestling — have agreed to drop their lawsuit.
When UI Athletics last month announced it’s launching the first NCAA Division I Power Five conference women’s wrestling team, it acknowledged the move was compelled by the Title IX settlement.
At a Sept. 23 news conference, UI Athletics Director Gary Barta said his department for years had been considering adding the sport — but shelved discussions when the pandemic hit and created massive financial challenges, prompting its elimination of three men’s sports and the women’s swimming and diving team. Barta has maintained his department is in compliance with Title IX and said the settlement doesn’t admit wrongdoing.
The settlement’s requirement that the UI cap its varsity spots on the women’s rowing team at 75 relates to the lawsuit’s accusation the department was inflating its rowing squad numbers to between 90 and 100-plus in its Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act reporting.
“Rowing participation requires careful examination for accuracy and possible inflation,” according to the expert opinion provided by Lopiano, who alleged that “a portion of what has been represented as varsity rowing participation opportunities are actually novice opportunities.”
UI Deputy Athletics Director Barbara Burke, senior women’s administrator, took issue with those allegations in a December 2020 affidavit — noting “Lopiano seems to misunderstand the way in which UI Athletics engages in roster management to help ensure its compliance with Title IX.”
Based on coach recruiting plans, total scholarships available, and average team membership in recent years, administrators establish target squad sizes — which are “fluid and subject to change.”
“Dr. Lopiano makes a variety of unsupported claims that UI allegedly improperly inflates its women’s squad sizes in an attempt to deprive female student-athletes of equal participation opportunities,” Burke argued in her affidavit.
UI Head Rowing Coach Andrew Carter resigned Tuesday, calling it “the right time for my family and me.”
“I’m ready to see someone new have that chance,” he said in a statement. “I wish the very best to not only the rowing team, but all of Hawkeye athletics in the future.”
Carter was named the university’s third head rowing coach in program history in July 2013 and led the team to the NCAA championships for three straight seasons from 2017 to 2019. According to a UI Athletics news release, the rowing team improved in the conference standings during each of Carter’s first five years at the Big Ten Championships. Under his direction, the squad appeared in the national polls 33 times — reaching No. 7 in 2018.
Filling his role on an interim basis will be assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Katie Thurstin, who only recently joined the staff last month after serving as head rowing coach at Stetson University.
In December, Carter — like Burke — gave an affidavit for the Title IX lawsuit taking issue with Lopiano’s allegations of roster inflation on the rowing team. In particular, he disputed “her attempts to equate the experience of novice UI rowers with a ‘sub-varsity JV’ experience.”
“I have never met Dr. Lopiano and am unaware of any attempts by her to visit UI’s campus or to discuss UI’s rowing team with me or other members of the UI Athletic Department,” Carter said. “Dr. Lopiano’s unsupported claims that novice rowers do not have a ‘varsity’ experience or enjoy varsity-level benefits at UI is flat out wrong. There is no category of student-athletes in the UI rowing program that receives different treatment. UI ‘novice’ rowers are in no way a ‘junior varsity’ program. They are integral to all we do.”
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