University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta says, contrary to what current and former Hawkeye athletes have contended, he has been communicative and transparent about why four of the school’s 24 sports teams are being discontinued.
“It’s a hard thing. I get it,” Barta said Thursday. “There’s emotion. There’s anger. All of that is going on.
“I also understand there needs to be a villain. There needs to be someone or something to blame. I’m clear in explaining that the villain or the someone or something to blame is the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s what created all of this.
“The reality is we had to make these decisions and it’s been very difficult. We also had to sit across from people and tell them their jobs were no longer going to be available and (there were) more pay cuts and unpaid leave.”
On Aug. 21, 10 days after the Big Ten Conference announced it wouldn’t be having fall sports including revenue-producing football, Barta and UI President Bruce Harreld announced the dropping of Iowa’s men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and men’s tennis teams after the 2020-21 school year. A group of over 500 Hawkeye athletes and alumni formed Save Hawkeye Sports, fighting for the reinstatement of those sports and offering what they feel are financial solutions.
The group secured about $1.65 million in pledges in a 24-hour period to try to help sustain the programs, but at Wednesday’s Board of Regents meeting Barta said cutting the programs would save a total of $5 million a year.
“We’ve been clear with them it would take 20 to 30 times that, maybe more, to bring these sports back,” Barta said. “It isn’t possible.”
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He said his program was looking at a $75 million deficit without football. He says it’s now somewhere from $40 million to $60 million with a percentage of TV money restored with the Big Ten’s decision last week to have a nine-game football season after all, but with no fans.
An open letter from Save Hawkeye Sports this week said “We want to make sure that these sports are restored in the short term as we work on longer term solutions for how to continue in perpetuity.”
Harreld told the Regents “I’ve been there so many times on other facilities/activities on campus that if you do this we’ll raise the money, and then we end up with 10 percent of what we need and now we’re on the hook to fund the rest.”
There was no open-endedness about the subject. The decision to cut the sports is final, Herreld and Barta said.
“I started indicating to our coaches in May or June.” Barta said, “that, worst-case scenario, it could lead to having to cut sports.”
Common complaints from people within Save Hawkeye Sports is that the university hasn’t been transparent about financial information, or the criteria used to select the sports that were chopped. Barta disputes the former.
“We’ve continued to share where we are financially,” Barta said. “At the end of the day, the thing that I won’t share — and there is discomfort with this — I won’t sit down with a group and compare one sport against another as to the areas that we identified. I just won’t talk publicly and pit one sport against the other in terms of why we cut this sport and not that sport. That just isn’t something that I’m willing to do.
“Other than that, we’ve tried to provide all the information. We have communicated. It’s been portrayed that we’re not talking or we haven’t shared any conversations. The reality is we’ve had conversations. There is a disagreement of the solution or maybe even a mistrust of the dollar figures, but we have shared the information that we have.”
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There has been no recent confirmation from the NCAA or Iowa that the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships will be held on the Iowa campus as scheduled next March 24-27.
“That’s a decision that ultimately the NCAA will make,” Barta said Thursday. “And at this point, there has not been an announcement.”
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