IOWA CITY — When the University of Iowa announced its decision to drop four sports, including men’s and women’s swimming, on Aug. 21 due to COVID-19-related budget shortfalls, there were the expected calls to save the program.
A petition entitled “Save UIowa Swim & Dive” was started on change.org. As of Monday, it had generated more than 23,000 signatures. Last Saturday, about 25 swimming parents and about 50 others on a Zoom video conference met near the Iowa Memorial Union. They were told a committee of about a dozen people was working to develop a financial model to present the university to save the programs via private funding.
Later last week, former swimmers sent a letter, authored by Vickie Nauman, to the Iowa Board of Regents in support of all four programs — men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis also were cut — noting “due process” was not followed.
Another group also has reached out to the UI with an appeal. In a letter delivered to UI President Bruce Harreld and athletics director Gary Barta, Iowa Swimming, Inc., the designated local swimming committee (LSC) for USA Swimming responsible for the territory comprising Iowa’s eastern 82 counties, presented its case for the retention of swimming.
Barta said the decision to cut these sports is final, citing the fact “the dollars are just so large that there really is no path forward to change this decision.”
Linn-Mar girls’ swimming coach Bobby Kelley also is the general chair for Iowa Swimming Inc. He composed the letter on behalf of the organization citing, as the parent group did, Iowa Swimming’s desire to work with the UI to come up with a solution.
“We wanted to let them know we understood this is an extraordinary time,” said Kelley, who also is an assistant coach at Coe College. “Our goal was to not be adversarial. We made our points with hopes that even if the programs are discontinued now that they would consider bringing them back in the future.”
Kelley’s letter also touted what having a program at Iowa means to Iowa Swimming.
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“Many of Iowa Swimming’s member coaches, officials and volunteers are alumni of the University of Iowa program,” states Kelley in the letter. “Eliminating this program from the University of Iowa deflates this dream for thousands of student-athletes who grow up and live in the state.”
Iowa City High girls’ and boys’ swimming coach Zane Hugo is one of the many coaches Kelley mentioned who have competed for the Hawkeyes. He knows the impact the UI swim program has on swimming at all levels in Iowa.
“I am saddened that this decision was made and executed without public discussion or without any option for recourse by the swimming and diving staff, alumni, and community,” he said. “Swimming and diving has been on campus for over 100 years and has a rich history in Iowa City, the state, and nationally.”
Even those who chose to leave the state to swim collegiately know the impact of the Hawkeye program.
“While I chose to attend and compete for a rival school, growing up as a swimmer in Iowa gives you an appreciation for everything the Hawkeyes do,” said Kelley’s son Cameron, a senior swimming for Minnesota. “Being raised in the area, you aspire to compete on the level of the Hawkeyes, sometimes as a part of their team and other times as their rival. The loss of a program like Iowa impacts everyone in the state, Big Ten and NCAA.”
Then there is the UI’s Campus Recreation & Wellness Center that opened in 2010 at a cost of $69 million and includes a world-class aquatics facility. Hugo expects the university will maintain the pool, which is, ironically, scheduled to host the 2021 NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships, although that appears to be in jeopardy. It also hosts the Iowa boys’ state high school meet each February.
“The CRWC Natatorium is an asset to the university and to the community,” he said. “It is operated by University of Iowa Recreational Services and I would expect that they will continue to maintain the facility.”
Bobby Kelley’s letter concludes with Iowa Swimming’s hope to work with the UI to continue to promote swimming.
“Please let us know how we can continue to work with your school so we can together continue to promote the growth of our sport and provide competitive swimming opportunities to the citizens of the state of Iowa,” he writes. “Lastly, we urge you to reconsider the decision to drop this program. If this is not possible at this time, please make it the goal of the University to reinstate the program as soon as possible once the University’s athletic department’s budget permits.”