Twice, University of Iowa offensive lineman Matt Purdy helped carry head coach Hayden Fry off a playing field.
Once was in 1993 at Kinnick Stadium after Fry got his 200th career win. The other time was when the Hawkeyes routed Washington at the 1995 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Purdy, now the 47-year-old athletics director and head football coach at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill., was a starting offensive lineman and a senior captain for the Hawkeyes, and has carried Iowa with him.
That was extended a generation when Purdy’s son, Illinois high school state-champion swimmer Ryan Purdy, joined the Iowa men’s swimming team in 2019.
“When I stepped foot on the campus for a visit I knew it was the place where I would swim,” Ryan Purdy said Monday after a morning-full of classes at Iowa that included trying to learn Spanish in a room in which everyone was 6 feet apart and wearing a face mask.
“The rich tradition, the family aspect of the program, the world-class coaches … I’m forever grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”
That opportunity was yanked last Friday. Iowa announced the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, men’s gymnastics team and men’s tennis squad would be discontinued after the 2020-21 school year. That will offset a relatively small part of the $100 million loss Iowa athletics will endure primarily because of the Big Ten’s cancellation of the 2020 football season.
“They were recruited to the University of Iowa,” Matt Purdy said, “they accepted that opportunity, and went there anticipating that they’d be able to complete their careers as an Iowa student-athlete. To have that taken away from them is a tragic event.
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“It’s really hard to swallow. That’s coming from someone who was part of that university for 4 1/2 years and knows the greatness that university provides.”
The four affected teams will compete in the 2020-21 school year assuming they have enough athletes left and aren’t restricted because of the COVID-19 situation. Like over a dozen of his teammates, Ryan Purdy has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. That’s not what he wanted.
“The best-case scenario is to find a way to finish my three years at Iowa,” he said. “That was my dream when I came here. I never envisioned anything like this happening. I still want to pursue that and know a lot of people are working very hard now behind the scenes.”
One such person is his father, who has helped organize a meeting of the swimmers’ parents for this Saturday in Iowa City. Parents of the gymnasts and tennis players are encouraged to join.
“We’re going to embrace our kids and formulate a plan,” Matt Purdy said. “I will help guide these parents to be able to put together a plan of action that will allow the administration to listen to us.
“Pretty much on Day 1 of your first education class they talk to you about doing no harm to students. And I think this decision has done harm to these students and put them in a bad spot.”
“I don’t want to create any false hope,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said Monday. “The decision to cut these sports is final. The hole that’s been dug by our current financial situation is very, very deep.
“I know people want to help. I know people who want to create GoFundMe pages. The dollars are just so large that there really is no path forward to change this decision.”
Matt Purdy might question that.
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“I know at Bowling Green University they were going to cut the baseball program,” he said. “They told the alumni they had to raise $1.5 million to keep the program going. Within three weeks they had $1.5 million. And the University of Iowa is a much-bigger place.
“Raising money is never easy, but in my heart of hearts I find it’s hard to believe that we couldn’t find a way to offset these budget shortcomings. It’s hard to believe the university would turn that down in any way, shape or form.”
Ryan Purdy was aware of the hard financial times Iowa athletics was facing, but said “Nobody saw this coming. It doesn’t really make sense.”
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