Gary Barta worries result of NCAA lawsuit would be to equate student-athletes with employees

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday he is concerned that a pending lawsuit against the NCAA may flip the current college sports model on its head.

“I disagree that we should have an open-market, pay-for-play (system in which) student-athletes are employees,” Barta told reporters after the monthly meeting of the Presidential Committee on Athletics.

Last week, a federal judge ordered the NCAA back to court to defend its limits on the compensation college athletes can receive. A trial was set for Dec. 3. The plaintiffs are seeking a system that would apply only to major-college football and Division I men’s and women’s basketball players.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta is "concerned about all the possible dominoes that could occur" after a judge agreed to hear a lawsuit against the NCAA seeking more compensation for football and basketball players.

That’s one aspect that worries Barta.

“What does that do for all the other sports? What does it do for other challenges like Title IX?” Barta wondered. “Right now, we have 24 sports and they’re funded primarily through football and men’s basketball. So what happens to all our Olympic sports? I’m just concerned about all the possible dominoes that could occur.”

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the NCAA and 11 major conferences — including the Big Ten, of which Iowa is a member — from limiting athletes to scholarships that cover only tuition, fees, room, board, books and incidental costs of attending college. The plaintiffs want any limits to be decided on a conference-by-conference basis, which could allow for athletes to capitalize on their names, images and likenesses in endorsement deals.

That’s the so-called “Olympic model” of sports. Barta rejected that notion as well.

“This is about a student-athlete experience. Our student-athletes graduate at a very high rate and they come here to do two things — compete at the highest level in the sport that they love and earn a degree from one of the great universities in the country. And they come here with that in mind, not to be an employee,” Barta said.

“I think the Olympic model is unique to the Olympics. … I like the collegiate model. It doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The collegiate model has worked for 100 and some years. It’s a great model that can be made better, but not flip and turn into an employee and employer relationship.”

On other topics, Barta said:

  • Iowa has no plans to sell beer to the general public in Kinnick Stadium. Other universities, such as Ohio State, have recently started doing so and have generated revenue. The Buckeyes reported $1.35 million from beer sales at seven home football games last year, the Columbus Dispatch reported. Iowa does sell alcohol to fans in suites at Kinnick. “I would never begin selling beer or alcohol because of increased revenue,” Barta said. “I watch what’s going on around the country. I’m aware. If the tipping point ever happens nationally, then it would be more about customer service, not about trying to make an extra dollar.” When asked what would be considered a tipping point, Barta said: “If we’re the last school in the country that’s not” selling beer.
  • The north end zone at Kinnick will be fenced off to keep fans and players away during the football team’s final spring practice, which is open to the public April 20. Players will be discouraged from heading in that direction, since the end zone is being renovated and won’t reopen until the home opener Sept. 1. “There’ll be quick whistles if it starts going the other way and for the most part we’ll run offensively all towards the south,” Barta said. He said the school has not yet had any discussions about conducting a “Hawkeye Wave” toward the Children’s Hospital during the spring scrimmage, but noted that that’s an “organic” moment anyway. Fans began waving to the ill children and their families after the first quarter of each home game last fall, and the movement gained international attention.
  • He is not worried about four men’s basketball players who are exploring other options since the season ended last month. Guard Brady Ellingson is going to transfer for his final season. Forward Ahmad Wagner has decided to quit basketball and attempt a college football career. Sophomore starters Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss are testing the NBA Draft process, with the option to return to the Hawkeyes. “None of them concern me because they weren’t about someone being unhappy being at Iowa. It was just about just pursuing something that they want to pursue,” Barta said. He did note that the NBA process gives the players until May 30 to make a final decision, which creates some lingering uncertainty, but said he hasn’t talked to Iowa coach Fran McCaffery about that and said there’s no movement in NCAA circles to speed up that process. “The longer it goes, the longer the time you don’t know exactly who you have going into the next season,” Barta said.