University of Iowa athletics director Gary Barta on Tuesday confirmed his department is and has been interested in adding a women’s wrestling program.
But, he said, the department would need up to $1.5 million in startup costs and he hasn’t identified a way to finance it — especially given COVID-19 losses leaving his department with a $50 million to $60 million deficit this year.
“I haven’t focused in on a hard budget,” Barta said after guessing startup costs to add women’s wrestling could range from three quarters of a million to $1.5 million. “I think it’s somewhere in that range and includes scholarships and coaching ... and we have some infrastructure already built in.
“But we haven’t added the sport primarily, even before COVID and the pandemic, because we hadn’t figured out a financial plan that allowed us to do that within the means that we have.”
Barta made his comments Tuesday during a news conference about his decision to reinstate women’s swimming and diving after announcing it would be eliminated — along with men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics — in light of losses from the pandemic.
The university decided to reinstate the women’s swimming and diving program after several female athletes — including a wrestler — sued the institution for failing to comply with the federal Title IX gender equity law by not having enough athletic opportunities for women on campus.
“We are interested in studying having women’s wrestling for obvious reasons,” Barta said. “One obvious reason was our history and tradition on the men’s side and in wrestling. But in addition to that, this past July the NCAA approved women’s wrestling, as an emerging championship.
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“The popularity of the sport at the high school level continues to grow. And so all of those, make it intriguing.”
According the NCAA, to qualify for the Emerging Sports for Women program, there must be at least 20 varsity teams competing in a minimum of five competitions each year. The program added women’s wrestling in June 2020, but in order to be added as a championship sport, 40 schools need to offer women’s wrestling. There are 38 schools with women’s wrestling programs, including one at Iowa Wesleyan.
The Emerging Sports for Women program was established in 1994 to serve as a “pipeline to support the advancement of women’s sports to championship status,” and has since succeeded in adding rowing, women’s ice hockey, women’s water polo, bowling and women’s beach volleyball as championship sports.
Iowa freshman Abbie Lyman was added as a plaintiff in the Title IX complaint initiated by the female swimmers, along with Miranda Vermeer, a UI senior hoping the Hawkeyes add rugby as a women’s sport.
In the complaint, Lyman said she fell in love with wrestling in high school but has found “no institutional support for (women’s wrestling) at the University of Iowa.”
“She finds this to be unusual and disappointing as she knows of growing, strong support for female wrestling in high schools across the state and believes that increasing numbers of female students who come to the UI to study share this interest,” according to the lawsuit. “She believes that, given the UI’s international reputation for wrestling, a women’s wrestling team would attract many athletes and would receive deep support from the undergraduate student body and citizens of the State of Iowa.”
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