Iowa athletic director Gary Barta has prostate cancer, will take leave of absence

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will take an extended medical leave to undergo surgery and treatment, the university confirmed Tuesday.

He will return to work as soon as his recovery allows.

Deputy director of athletics Barbara Burke will assume leadership of the department in Barta's absence.

Barta, 54, became Iowa's athletic director on Aug. 1, 2006, succeeding Bob Bowlsby. Barta previously held the same position at the University of Wyoming.

Barta was the director of athletics development/external relations at the University of Northern Iowa from 1990-96.

Barta's reign as Iowa's AD has been highlighted by a run of success on the football field, the basketball court and in fundraising circles. Barta revealed in July that this has been a record year for fundraising in Iowa athletics: $48 million strong at that time.

Barta was recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics as a 2015-16 Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year.  In 2016, Barta received a contract extension keeping him in Iowa City through 2021.

Barta's base salary for 2017-18 is $550,000.


“In the years I’ve been here since 2006,” Barta said in July, “the mood and the culture of our student-athletes, our coaches and our staff has never been better.”

There have been pain points, too. In May, the university agreed to pay Tracey Griesbaum $1.5 million to end a legal battle that began nearly three years ago with the firing of the former field hockey coach. In addition, the school paid $2.3 million to Griesbaum's partner, former senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer, and $2.7 million to the Des Moines law firm that represented them both, bringing the total payment to $6.5 million in two high-profile discrimination lawsuits. That money came out of the athletic department budget.

"I’m angry at what happened. But I’m moving forward," Barta said in July. "Literally, I still have people who see me on the street and say, ‘How are you doing? Are you OK?’ And the answer is, 'Absolutely.'"

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that Barta revealed the cancer diagnosis to him "a while back."

"Gary seemed very confident about the process and very optimistic," Ferentz said. "We’re all here to help during his brief absence."

Ferentz, who has been head coach since 1999, said Barta has "been great since Day 1. He doesn't say yes to everything I ask and that's how it's supposed to work."

Burke previously worked with Barta at Wyoming and joined the staff at Iowa in July 2016 as senior associate athletic director. She was promoted to the deputy role — the No. 2 in the department — in April after Gene Taylor left to become athletic director at Kansas State.

Burke had been deputy athletic director at Tulane before coming to Iowa. She also served as athletic director at Eastern Illinois for six years.

Neither Barta nor Burke were available for media interviews Tuesday.

Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in American men, behind skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, which estimates that there are 161,360 new cases diagnosed in U.S. men annually. About one in seven men will be diagnosed with the disease.

Survival rates are relatively high, however, with only one in 39 U.S. men dying from the disease. The cancer society said more than 2.9 million American men who have been diagnosed with the disease are still living today.

Possible treatments include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.