Iowa Hawkeyes

Hawkeye swimming parents aiming to get Iowa to reinstate teams it cut

Parents working to secure funding and to urge UI to reverse its decision

Parents of University of Iowa women's and men's swimming team members meet outside the university's Iowa Memorial Union
Parents of University of Iowa women’s and men’s swimming team members meet outside the university’s Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City Saturday to discuss strategy to convince the school to reinstate those teams, as well as men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Parents of University of Iowa swimmers and divers aren’t about to let the women’s and men’s swimming teams at the school be dropped — or the men’s gymnastics and tennis programs.

About 25 swimming parents met outside the Iowa Memorial Union Saturday, with over 50 more joining them via a Zoom video conference. They were told a committee of about a dozen people was at work to come up with a financial model to present to university to save the programs via private funding.

On Aug. 22, the UI announced it was cutting those four of its 24 sponsored athletic programs effective at the end of the 2020-21 school year as a portion of a response to the athletics department projecting to lose $100 million in revenue this year without football.

Monday, Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said “The decision to cut these sports is final. ... The dollars are just so large that there really is no path forward to change this decision.”

This is disputed by the swimming parents, who say they have potential donors interested in proving Barta’s statement wrong.

“I’ve been in public finance for 30 years,” said David Fierke, the city manager of Fort Dodge and the father of Hawkeye swimmer Andrew Fierke. “There are different ways for looking at models to make things work. It’s a matter of priorities and the will of the people willing to make the decisions.

“We’re going to work hard to demonstrate the way to keep a strong swimming program, tennis, gymnastics, and meet the budgetary and financial needs of the overall department.”

Matt Purdy of Glenview, Ill., a 1995 Hawkeye football captain, is the athletics director and head football coach at Glenbrook North High School. His son, Ryan, is a sophomore swimmer at Iowa.

“We have a short-term goal to think about first: How do we get the university to pause?” Purdy said. “We’re looking into different marketing firms that will help find new models to help finance sports like ours.

“The ultimate goal is to make the university pause and say we have the money to potentially finance the sports, so let’s go back to the table and let’s renegotiate this process. Then long-term, six, 10, 12 years down the road, how do we make these sports sustainable for future generations?”

Mark Kauffman of Oak Brook, Ill., the father of Iowa swimmer Christina Kauffman, said the university erred in cutting the programs.

“I think it’s worth that conversation to let the people know — and they know who they are that made the decision — have that conversation and give them a chance to fix the mistake I believe they made, reverse the decision, reinstate the teams immediately, and come back to figure out the model and how to make it work going forward.

“There are ways to finance this that weren’t done before COVID, weren’t done before this announcement.

“And if those conversations don’t go the way they should in my opinion, don’t go the way that we think they should, then we need to let them know that we’re going to fight this with all the resources we were prepared to support them with.”

A recurring message from the speakers at the meeting, however, was that the parents and other swimming supporters want to have a united front, but strive to work with the university without pointing fingers.

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“We want to be partners in this,” Fierke said. “We’re not enemies. We’re all part of a family. We all want our kids to swim at Iowa and want them to graduate at Iowa.”

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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