Iowa Hawkeyes

Title IX complaint against University of Iowa demands new women's sports like wrestling, rugby

'Given the UI's international reputation for wrestling, a women's wrestling team would attract many athletes'

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top l
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — Female athletes pushing — via federal Title IX complaint — for the University of Iowa to reinstate the cut women’s swimming and diving program have expanded their demands, asking now that a court also force the Hawkeyes to add more women’s sports teams, like wrestling and rugby.

The new student demands expand on those outlined in an original Title IX complaint filed last month on behalf of four UI female swimmers who learned in August the campus will cut men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, and men’s gymnastics after this academic year.

“This amended complaint expands on the relief requested to include both the re-establishment of an existing women’s sports team at the University of Iowa (swimming and diving), as originally pleaded, but, also, to request the creation of one or more additional women’s sports teams to assure equal athletics opportunities for females, in proportion with their undergraduate enrollment,” according to attorney James C. Larew, representing the UI students.

Serving as vehicle for the new demands are two new plaintiffs added to the original complaint — Abbie Lyman, a UI freshman who wrestled in high school and competed at the state level but “found no institutional support for it at the University of Iowa”; and Miranda Vermeer, a UI senior who played rugby in high school and became president of a UI women’s rugby club, which she said has “minimal” UI support.

Lyman had hoped to keep wrestling at UI — boasting among the most storied and successful men’s wrestling programs in the country — and found the lack of UI support for women’s wrestling “unusual and disappointing, as she knows of growing, strong support for female wrestling in high schools across the state.”

“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,” according to the complaint.

Regarding women’s rugby, Vermeer argued enough colleges and universities are in traveling proximity “to allow the scheduling of a full competitive women’s rugby season if a varsity team were to be created and financially supported by the University of Iowa Athletics Department.”

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The demand for more UI women’s sports comes as the Athletics Department warns its deficit from COVID-19 this year could range from $40 million to $60 million.

In addition to its new plaintiffs, the amended Title IX complaint also gained two new defendants: UI Athletics Director Gary Barta and UI President Bruce Harreld, who recently announced plans to retire.

“This amended complaint adds additional material facts that have happened since the original complaint was filed,” according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court noting Harreld and Barta during a Sept. 23 Board of Regents meeting said re-establishing women’s swimming and diving “will require fundraising to create a huge endowment.”

That, according to the athletes’ attorney Larew, is a “burden that no University of Iowa men’s sports team has ever been required to carry.”

During the September regents meeting, Barta and Harreld defended their decision to drop four sports; rejected calls to reconsider — including from a group of alumni and parents that raised $1.7 million in just days; and said even with the return of some semblance of a football season, Iowa’s losses this year will reach the tens of millions.

“We’ve been clear with them that it would take 20 or 30 times that, maybe more to bring those sports back,” Barta told regents, referencing news of the alumni group’s fundraising. “If we face a $50 million deficit this year, it will take us over a decade to pay that back. It just isn’t possible to bring these sports back.”

Attorney Larew argued none of Harreld and Barta’s statements since Aug 21, when they announced the program closures, “have provided a full and more truthful accounting for wrongful and discriminatory conduct by the UI.”

“In fact, the University of Iowa was, and has been, intentionally discriminating against its female students in its athletics offerings for some time,” according to his complaint.

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Before this year’s decision to eliminate the programs, per the complaint, UI was not providing women with equal sports opportunities or equal scholarships, “placing the institution far out of compliance with Title IX.”

The federal law requires campuses provide female athletes with opportunities at a rate “substantially proportionate” to their undergraduate full-time enrollment. And the complaint argues plenty of options exist to right the UI wrong.

“Emerging sports that have enjoyed growing support from female students who have attended the University of Iowa — ranging from women’s ice hockey to women’s rugby; from women’s water polo to women’s lacrosse; from women’s ultimate Frisbee to women’s soccer — have received minimal, if any, recognition by the Athletics Department.”

The complaint, which pushes for reinstatement of all the cut sports in addition to new female opportunities, notes the UI decision to cut three men’s programs “did not remedy the UI’s sex discrimination practices.”

“The University will still be providing male students with far more athletics opportunities, more scholarship dollars and better treatment than its female students, even if it moves forward with the announced cuts to the men’s sports programs,” according to the complaint, reporting UI still would have to add 81 new athletic opportunities for women to achieve Title IX compliance.

UI Athletics administrators have said even with a pared-down football season back on the schedule, revenue won’t rebound in that UI still will experience significant hits from lost ticket sales, media rights, and conference contributions.

Complainants, though, rejected that argument — pointing to Athletic Department settlements and raises for assistant football coaches.

“Despite these types of expenditures, and despite that fact that the Big Ten Conference’s football season is now back on the boards, and despite pledges of funds that would support the program’s viability, Director Barta has reported to the press that there would be no change in the decision made to terminate the women’s swimming and diving team, involving 35 female athletes.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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