IOWA VIEW

Opinion: What we've learned about the University of Iowa while resisting sport cuts shows us change is needed at the top

UI needs to rise to the occasion with more modern thinking to sustain athletics and build leaders.

Mark Kaufman, Vickie Nauman, Ron Kaminski, Dave Carpenter and Matt Purdy
Guest columnists

In August 2020, after the University of Iowa athletic department announced it would cancel four legacy, varsity sports because of a financial crisis, a group of passionate alumni came together to usher these sports through the pandemic to cover the operating costs until the university could rebound.

Our initial assumption was that this process would be fairly straightforward — we would collaborate with UI to better understand the situation, raise the required amount of annual operating revenue required via private donations, work with the teams and coaches to build a more involved alumni support group, and ensure the stability of Olympic sports. After more than six months of efforts and $3 million pledged from over 700 individuals, we would like to publicly share our lessons learned. 

We are concerned for our alma mater, the University of Iowa. In our quest to reinstate the four Olympic sports that were cut last summer we have immersed ourselves in UI, the athletic department, and the culture at the UI. We write to share our concerns and a call to action with Iowa elected leaders, Iowans and Hawkeye Nation.

The athletic department is not putting student athletes or Title IX first. The manner in which the athletes were informed of the four sports’ termination, as well as the lack of direct department communication with the affected student athletes, who entrusted their education and athletic career to UI, is a travesty.  We support and congratulate the members of the women's swimming and diving team for the December ruling in their favor in the Title IX lawsuit, but in order for the program to thrive and recruit, the UI must accept responsibility for its errors, publicly declare a permanent reinstatement of women's swimming so coaches can build and recruit, and stop fighting the ruling.   

Title IX has broad sweeping implications for women and any university, and there are many ways to ensure Title IX compliance. Consideration should be given to reinstatement of men’s swimming and diving alongside the addition of women’s water polo, women’s wrestling and rugby, as they can and should be part of the discussion. All UI sports need recalibration for Title IX compliance.  As we all know, athletic director Gary Barta does not have a good track record. Most recently, the university's refusal to share roster information for every sport, as ordered by District Judge Stephanie Rose, demonstrates bad faith.

A Register piece by Mark Emmert points out the risk to the entire University of Iowa if it loses that case … at least $500 million to the greater university as all federal funds could be withdrawn. Is Barta willing to take the university down with him in this fight? 

RELATED:The stakes are high for Iowa, Barta in Title IX lawsuit

The athletic department is financially irresponsible. Financial mismanagement and spending under Barta were problematic long before the pandemic. The lack of reserves, a bloated staff, spending on lavish offices, and the hundreds of millions of dollars of debt have created a malfunctioning cost structure. Further, discrimination lawsuits have cost UI to date over $8.8 million in settlements, with two additional lawsuits currently in the court system. All that does not include legal fees.

It’s time for a forensic audit of the UI athletic department. A forensic audit examines and evaluates every management and operational detail. As this is a public university, the people of Iowa and elected leaders who are dispersing funds need to know whether or not the financial and human capital are well managed.  

The athletic department has maintained that this decision to cut sports is financial, yet when this alumni group offered $3 million in 2021 and another $3 million over several years to cover costs, the offer was not considered seriously. At best the group was placated. Why isn't UI open to at least taking our money and reinstating men's swimming and diving alongside the women? The marginal cost is easily covered by the pledges we have received. Has the Board of Regents requested that the state auditor review the financial management processes in the UI athletic department? If not, why not?

UI needs to modernize its thinking. College athletics and higher education in general had strain in their business models and stability before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has accelerated and brought it to a crisis. Needs and challenges are evolving, including name/image/likeness rights, and UI needs to rise to the occasion with more modern thinking to sustain athletics and build leaders. This must include the efforts of UICA, UI alumni athletes, and current staff and coaches for all Olympic sports. This is a direct pipeline to the Olympic medal stand.

The 1969 Iowa men's gymnastics champions pose on the podium in Seattle.

We applaud encourage new leadership. President Bruce Harreld has stepped down, and we consider this cause for hope. The athletic department under Barta has been a national embarrassment to the university, its students, staff and alumni. In order for Iowa to continue to attract ambitious students and student athletes, it must clean up its reputation and turn around its internal toxic culture. These problems start at the top, and we advocate for new athletic department leadership.

It’s time for answers. We call on the Iowa executive and legislative branches to hold UI accountable, undertake a forensic audit of the athletic department, and address the very well-known problems before finalizing the UI budget.

Mark Kaufman, Vickie Nauman, Ron Kaminski, Dave Carpenter and Matt Purdy write on behalf of the working group of Save Hawkeye Sports. Kaufman, of Chicago, is founder and executive chairman of Athletico Physical Therapy and a former University of Iowa athletic trainer. Nauman, Kaminski and Carpenter are former UI swimmers. Nauman, of Los Angeles, is founder and CEO of CrossBorderWorks Music/Tech. Kamisnki, of Chicago, is president of HBK Engineering LLC. Carpenter, of West Des Moines is CEO of JD Carpenter Cos. Inc. Purdy, of Northbrook, Illinois, a former UI football player, is assistant athletic director and head football coach at Glenbrook North High School.