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Iowa athletic director Gary Barta spoke to reporters at Kids Day at Kinnick, with the $90 million project towering behind him. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — All 650 University of Iowa athletes are invited to chat with Gary Barta on Sunday.

The Hawkeye athletic director wants to hear their thoughts on a single question.

“In 2019, what does it mean to be a college student-athlete?” Barta said Thursday.

The timing of this gathering coincides with the recent movement to allow college athletes to profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses.

But that’s not the only topic on which Barta wants feedback. He will ask about cost-of-attendance scholarships, the expanded food and nutrition program, and new transfer rules as well.

“There’s never been a better time, in my opinion, to be a student-athlete than right now. The question is whether we can make it even better,” Barta said.

Barta reiterated that his only concern with allowing athletes to brand themselves is protecting the collegiate model, not getting to a point where the students are deemed employees of the university. He wants to be sure Iowa’s athletes are clear on what he means by that.

“They have their own opinions, and I want to hear those,” Barta said. “But do they also have all of the information?”

Barta tries to meet with his athletes at least once a year. When he played football at North Dakota State in the 1980s, that was not the case.

“I don’t ever remember being asked how my experience was,” he said. “I had a great experience, but I was never asked.”

What does he typically hear from athletes at Iowa?

“Everybody wants better parking,” Barta said. “But that’s whether you’re a student-athlete, a coach or a staff member.”

Athletic department updates strategic plan for 5 more years with lofty goal

Barta’s department was due for a new strategic plan and this one comes with a lofty goal: “To be the best intercollegiate athletic department in the nation.”

That was the way Eddie Etsey, director of information technology for Iowa athletics, worded it when presenting the new five-year plan Thursday to members of the Presidential Committee on Athletics.

This is the third version of the strategic plan and it will be officially launched in January. It operates under the now-familiar slogan: “Win. Graduate. Do it right.”

Within that are six pillars the Iowa athletic department is trying to achieve: Athletic success; academic success; diversity, equity and inclusion; Hawkeye pride; fiscal responsibility; and fan engagement.

The plan was developed with the input of faculty, athletes and coaches, Barta said. Internally, it is useful when setting goals, he said, with the question being asked: “Is this consistent with what we say we want to be?”

The plan will be available for Hawkeye fans to peruse, if they choose.

“How many people read strategic plans, I don’t know,” Barta said.

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Fan engagement is at top of mind and Carver Terrace is one example

There is a section of the strategic plan devoted to the fans, however. It’s no secret why.

“As you look across the country, getting fans to come to, enjoy and return to games is probably harder in 2019 than it was in 1980,” Barta said.

That’s because there are more options for following sporting events than ever.

The renovated north end zone at Kinnick Stadium was one effort to appeal to fans looking for the latest amenities, including comfortable seating and concession options.

Iowa will continue to offer premium seating in the “Carver Terrace” at men’s basketball games this winter. The seats along the top rows behind the basket were added last year, and allow fans to sit at semi-private tables where food, but not alcohol, is served. Season tickets for a table of two cost $2,500 and include a parking pass and access to the Feller Club Room before games and at halftime. Alcohol can be purchased there.

“It’s a fan experience experiment. If it goes well, eventually I could see us expanding that,” Barta said. “It did OK last year. I want to get it so it’s great. I want to get every game sold out, but we’re not there yet.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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