Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa wanted fall football, but now it's time for the consequences and the plan moving forward

Men's gymnastics, men's tennis and men's and women's swimming are casualties of COVID-19 and fall football shutdown

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld (from left) shakes hands with Athletic Director Gary Barta before the NCAA fo
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld (from left) shakes hands with Athletic Director Gary Barta before the NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Obviously, the Big Ten fall football season was in the balance Aug. 11. Iowa President Bruce Harreld and athletics director Gary Barta aligned on fall football. They wanted to play.

Barta said during a Zoom video conference on Wednesday that Big Ten presidents and chancellors did have a vote on postponing the conference's fall football season. Barta wasn’t in the room. He couldn’t characterize who voted for what. “And I don’t think there’s an intention for that to become public,” Barta said.

“Once the vote occurred, even though I disagreed maybe with some of the tactics, I’m part of a great conference,” Barta said. “Immediately, if that decision has been made, what do we have to do to get back to playing sports as quickly as possible?”

As soon as the Big Ten presidents and chancellors rendered their vote, it went through Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, who made the announcement last Tuesday. The Big Ten community has been on fire since, with parents groups from at least nine Big Ten programs openly protesting the league’s decision.

The big fallout at the University of Iowa was last week’s announcement that men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis and men’s and women’s swimming would be cut. The cuts should save UI athletics in the neighborhood of $5 million. Of course, the tearing down of these communities within Iowa athletics will leave untold damage.

A “Save UIowa Swimming and Diving” page showed up on change.org this week. As of Monday afternoon, it had nearly 16,000 of 25,000 signatures it wanted. On the men’s side, this leaves 21.37 open scholarships and 11.85 women’s swimming and diving scholarships. On men’s rosters, 58 athletes were affected and 26 on women’s rosters.

When this announcement was made Friday, it said the cuts wouldn’t be revisited. Barta said that was because he didn’t want to give false hope. Iowa athletics is in the midst of securing a loan between $70 and $75 million for it to operate 20 sponsored sports, not the 24 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down college athletics as we know it in March. Barta also cited data on sports that are dropped having a low rate of returning.

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“The decision to cut these sports is final,” Barta said. “What I mean by that is the hole that’s been dug by our current financial is very, very deep. We do have a plan to move forward, but we’re not going to flip a switch overnight. Paying back $75 million, we have a plan for it, but it’s going to take quite awhile.”

Barta later estimated it would take 15 years.

Barta said he’s heard from some donors, but the amount of money it would take to keep these sports fights against paying back a $75 million loan, which the UI is in the process of applying for.

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On Aug. 5, the Big Ten released a 10-game conference-only football schedule for the fall. With COVID-19 outbreaks in mind, slack was built into the schedule, with each program receiving two bye weeks and the Thanksgiving weekend being open.

Barta was pro that schedule with the breaks to evaluate health and whether or not the protocols were working.

“We created a schedule that started Sept. 5,” Barta said. “It could’ve been pushed to the first week of October to wait longer, to see if we could solve the issues that related to COVID-19 and the health that we didn’t have answers to yet. That’s what I’m tactically referring to, the difference in opinion on whether or not to push the season back and wait longer and see if we could solve some of those issues.”

Barta declined to characterize the interactions between the presidents/chancellors and the commissioner and athletics directors.

“Every one of those groups wants to find a way to play as soon as we can,” he added. “I’m not going to go into details exactly how that flowed in the communication. I wanted to wait longer, the vote came out in majority of the presidents, saying we’re to cut it off now and now I’m spending all of my energy trying to get back as fast as we can.”

Barta said he and Harreld were aligned on playing the fall schedule the league put out.

“He (Harreld) was working on behalf of our students and coaches, he was with me side-by-side to see if we could push this back,” Barta said. “Understand, there are still medical questions that I have and he has. He was aligned with me on working to push this as late as we could before a decision had to be made.”

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Once Big Ten leadership made its decision, athletics directors around the Big Ten have started the vital work of figuring out a spring football schedule and also the painful budget cutting. Barta said talks on spring/winter football are ongoing. He said likely no January outdoor games at Kinnick Stadium, with some games ticketed for domes.

Barta, who is the chair of the College Football Playoff committee, which, also Monday, released dates for its rankings, which won’t have any teams from the Big Ten in them, said he doesn’t expect to cut anymore sports. He all but said Iowa wrestling is protected, but he doesn’t know what the NCAA wrestling field would look like in 2021.

“I have never in my career have experienced the volume and magnitude of decisions, going all the way back to March, the gut-wrenching conversations, having to make decisions, the uncertainty,” Barta said. “ ... I’m spending most of my time dealing with the student-athletes on campus, the coaches on campus and trying to keep Iowa positioned and poised to play as soon as we can and then come out of this pandemic as swiftly and strongly as we can. ... I’m not sleeping much, but that’s my problem. I’m committed to working on these things to get them turned around as fast as we can, but the uncertainty.

“I still don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m going to keep digging and going as fast as I can until the light does start to show signs.”

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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