The University of Iowa’s jarring decision on Aug. 21 to terminate the four Olympic sports of men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, and men’s gymnastics at the end of the 2020-21 academic year came with a rationale that this was strictly due to financial strain caused by the Big Ten’s pandemic-related decision to cancel football. The widespread financial stress this year is very real and as business leaders, we appreciate the severity of the cash crisis and what it can mean to any organization. However, program termination should be the last resort, not among the first actions taken.
We have collectively found ourselves battling our own alma mater over our storied athletic programs and being turned away, despite bringing passion and decades of experience to the table. It is as if Herky has turned his back, “You are no longer a part of Hawkeye Nation.”
Naturally we went to the decision-makers to offer to help solve the problem. The response was not positive. Neither the athletic director, university president, nor Board of Regents members, who ostensibly has oversight, would make time to have this conversation with us. Every responsible leader passed on an opportunity to open their mind and engage with alumni to address the problem and collaborate on the potential solutions.
Why is this?
These decision-makers are looking at the past and using outdated thinking to navigate their way in an unprecedented time. That simply will not work. We need modern problem solving for modern problems, and leaders who have both the empathy and analytical skills required.
We are champions of our sport and our profession, athletes and leaders who’s DNA includes the ability to overcome obstacles, which we apply to our lives and professions, and now to the UI after many years away.
We have two related goals: retain these sports at Iowa and develop a sustainable new model. Why a new model? We realized that the old model of housing all sports in a singular athletic department simply doesn’t work. The goals, budget and objectives of football are different from Olympic sports. Co-mingling of large revenue and nonrevenue sports has created a gross de-prioritization of Olympic sports, and lack of allocation of donations to specific sports creates the illusion that no one cares. Finally, and significantly, the burden of a bloated athletic department’s extensive financial risk-taking has been pushed to smaller programs that otherwise operate within their means.
In just two weeks we have raised pledges of $3 million from over 500 people.
More than 25,000 have signed a petition in support of reinstatement of the four sports.
We engaged multiple departments at the university to seek advice and input, and once again were pleasantly surprised by the shared condemnation of the decision and overwhelming positivity for our efforts.
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We have reviewed the publicly available financial documents from the UI and created a local Iowa City-area economic impact snapshot as well as a future plan for these sports.
We tapped our professional and media networks as we shaped a new framework and vision.
And we stayed highly engaged with the current parents so that they know we are looking out for their sons’ and daughters’ future, even when the athletic department is not.
Along the way, we realized these sports programs need a home and a UI administrator that values them and is motivated by their continued success. We have found potential viable option to house these programs. We offer a robust alumni advisory group to a department, along with an engaged network willing to open their wallets.
Hawkeye Nation, we need you, join us! Bring your expertise, talent, connections and yes, pledge to support this effort. Contact us at our website www.savehawkeyesports.com or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us how you will help. We need this great Nation to stand with us. Go, Hawks!
Ron Kaminski, Vickie Nauman, Matt Purdy, Dave Carpenter and Mark Kaufman are members of Save Iowa Sports.