The Iowa athletics director stands by his decisions that led to the dismissals of Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa athletic director Gary Barta never feared for his job or considered resigning after his department paid out $6.5 million to settle two discrimination lawsuits in May, he told reporters Tuesday.
Speaking for the first time since the high-profile cases were settled, Barta said he remains “very confident with the decisions that we made and that I made. Tactically, I suppose you could always think of things that could have been improved upon.”
Barta said the $6.5 million was paid from the athletic department’s reserve funds. Barta, who was not a named defendant in the lawsuits, was asked if he nevertheless felt personally responsible for costing his department that money.
“Because of the way I’m wired, yes,” he said. “But in terms of the fact that it was a decision that was endorsed by the entire university, technically no.”
On May 4, a Polk County jury unanimously found for longtime Barta aide Jane Meyer in her trial alleging that she was removed from her position because of gender and sexual orientation bias. Meyer, the former senior associate athletic director, was awarded $1.4 million.
The next day, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld initiated a probe of the university's employment practices, beginning with the athletic department. That effort has yet to start.
On May 19, the university decided to settle a lawsuit filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum rather than go to trial. Griesbaum, Meyer's partner, also claimed gender and sexual orientation discrimination led to Barta's firing of her in 2014.
Barta said he was involved in the decision to avoid a second trial.
“Did we want to go through an appeal process? A federal-court lawsuit filed by Jane, and then another trial with Tracey?” Barta said. “We just decided for the mood, the culture and the benefit of the department and the university, it was just time to move forward.”
Former University of Iowa senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer, who was fired last year, was handed a win by a Polk County jury in her sexual discrimination lawsuit against the university. Bryon Houlgrave/The Register
Barta, entering his 12th year as Iowa’s athletic director, was painted as a misogynist and a homophobe by Meyer’s attorneys, Tom Newkirk and Jill Zwagerman. The crux of their case was that a subtle undercurrent of bias permeated the Iowa athletic department and favored straight males.
Barta acknowledged that he heard the criticism, but said he believes it comes with the territory in his job.
“Over the years, I have had to develop a thick skin,” he said. “I sleep well at night knowing I did the best I could with the information I have. I’m not going to lie and say that the last several months were easy. They weren’t. They were difficult.”
“I make mistakes every day,” Barta continued. “As long as you put them on the table, you did them with integrity, you did them with the best of your ability, you didn’t lie about it, then we’ll move forward. That’s how I feel about these decisions as well.”
Griesbaum says her anger of losing her job has waned since 2014, but "I don't think it can really ever go away." Zach Boyden-Holmes / The Register
The university didn’t admit any liability in settling the lawsuits, but Barta said he’s aware that its reputation suffered. He claimed that was among a small segment of the public, and that there was no need for a public-relations initiative to try to change the perception.
“Other than the very focused situation that received a lot of attention here — not as much nationally — there hasn’t been a single person who’s concerned about coming to work for us,” Barta said of job searches he’s conducted this summer.
“We’re not going to launch some sort of (PR) campaign, but we’re going to continue to try to earn the trust through what we do every day.”
Barta said he’s focusing on what he called the “momentum” in his department. He said the atmosphere has never been better in his 11 years. He pointed to the $48 million in donor pledges received in the past year, a record amount, he said.
And, despite some fans who have called for his ouster, Barta said he has no plans of going anywhere.
“President Harreld has been behind me 100 percent since he arrived,” said Barta, who received a contract extension and raise in January 2016 that is scheduled to see him make $600,000 in base salary next year. “He knew when he took the job about this situation. He talked to a lot of people about it, to find out what happened, how it happened. And he’s been supportive from Day 1.”
“I’m not ready to retire. I haven’t considered resigning,” Barta said later. “I’m to the point of my career where I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I do it because I love it. I do it because I love young people. I love what college athletics stands for. I’m not going to start making decisions based on what’s legally going to protect me the most. I’m going to do what I’ve tried to do for 30 years. I’m going to try to do what I think is right.”
In other topics Tuesday, Barta addressed:
The Tiger Hawk logo now affixed to midfield at Kinnick Stadium, and whether something similar on the nearby water tower is also possible. Some fans have long clamored for both, to the point where it’s become a running joke.
“I was fully in control of what went in the middle of the football field,” Barta said. “I have zero input and control what goes on the water tower. If I had a vote, I would vote 'Let’s put it up there.'”
The increasing television revenue that will be available to Big Ten Conference schools. Barta said the Hawkeyes will get about $50 million, annually, in TV and conference payouts under the new contract, but “we’ve pretty much spent it all already — in advance and in a thoughtful way.”
That includes hiring athletic trainers, a full-time nutritionist, an additional sports psychologist, and spending more on athletes’ basic living expenses and food.
Barta said he’s not concerned about media rights money drying up in the next contract as traditional cable TV becomes a less viable viewership option.
“You just have to be thoughtful about relying on one particular revenue source. I see while the world of TV might change and how it’s delivered might change, I think the fact that fans across the country still love the content... So however the content is delivered and monetized, I think the Big Ten is in a great position to move toward that over the next 10 or 20 years,” he said. “I don’t stay up at night thinking about tomorrow or the next day. It’s the next 10 or 20 years we have to really be thoughtful about.”
Keeping Rick Heller as Iowa’s baseball coach. In his four years at the helm, Heller has taken the Hawkeyes to two NCAA tournaments and secured a Big Ten tournament title this year. He earns a base salary of just $162,750. Barta said he’s had several discussions with Heller about his contract, and that he still envisions him coaching at Iowa for a decade to come.
“We both agreed I want him and he wants to be our coach until he retires. Nothing ready to report yet,” Barta said.
Replenishing his department’s reserve fund. Barta said that was as high as $12 million at one point but will be down to $3 million at year’s end.
“We’re on very strong financial ground right now,” Barta said of a department that has reported a $6.2 million deficit in the past two years. “I anticipate one more year of negative (cash flow) — and mostly because of the settlement. And we’ll take that out of our reserve. We’re still able to run our operating budget as long as we manage things fine and we have that reserve fund. The goal is to build it back up to $10 million-plus, and I don’t know how long it will take us, but we have a plan to do it over the next couple years."