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Iowa Hawkeyes alumni press on with efforts to save four sports programs despite rebuff by Board of Regents

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

The Iowa Board of Regents has denied a request from Hawkeye alumni to appear at the board's Sept. 23 meeting to appeal for the reinstatement of four sports slated to be cut at the university.

Board of Regents executive director Mark Braun sent a letter Friday to a group calling itself “Save Iowa Sports” saying: “The Board of Regents recognizes it was a very difficult decision to eliminate athletics programs, but supports (University of Iowa) President (Bruce) Harreld’s exercise of judgment in this matter.”

Copies of the correspondence between the group of more than 300 Iowa alumni and the Board of Regents were provided to the Register.

Ron Kaminski, a former Hawkeye swimmer who is the spokesperson for Save Iowa Sports, said the response from the Regents was not a surprise and that his group is going to keep working on a new business model that will allow Olympic sports to survive in university athletic departments.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta announced last month that he was going to eliminate men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving after this academic year. Barta cited a potential loss of $100 million in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic as the reason, saying he anticipates saving $5 million annually by not carrying those four sports. He has said he will not revisit his decision.

That decision caught many former participants in those sports by surprise, and Kaminski said hundreds of them have banded together to demonstrate to the university that it acted in haste and that there is a way to finance all 24 of the sports programs it currently fields.

“We were very disappointed that they didn’t want to talk, but I think we just have to find a way to get the Board of Regents and anyone that will listen more information of what we’re seeing from the outside spending a lot of time looking at this,” said Kaminski, who is the president of an engineering firm in Chicago.

“In no way will we be slowed down by this.”

Swimming and diving is among the sports targeted for elimination at Iowa, which was slated to host the NCAA championships at its Campus Recreation and Wellness Center. A group called "Save Iowa Sports" is trying to overturn the decision made by athletic director Gary Barta, but is so far making little headway.

Former Hawkeye swimmer Vickie Nauman also sent the Board of Regents a letter last week, with more than 260 signatures, questioning the decision to cut the four sports and seeking clarity about how it was reached.

Braun indicated to Nauman in his response that the Regents do not intend to overturn the move to eliminate the sports.

“The Board recognizes and is empathetic to the pain that you, and many others, are feeling right now,” Braun wrote. “The challenges that our public universities are facing are unprecedented. We acknowledge there can be disagreement about the appropriate actions to take in response to the current crisis, but please know that President Harreld and the Board of Regents are committed to the University of Iowa and its students.”

Meanwhile, an Iowa alumnus has filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board that the Regents violated the state’s open meetings law by not discussing the elimination of the sports programs publicly. Barta said he consulted with the Regents before announcing that he was cutting the sports, but those conversations were held privately.

Margaret Johnson, the executive director of the public information board, told the Register that Braun has until Thursday to provide a response to that complaint on behalf of the Regents.

Kaminski, who swam at Iowa from 1987-91, said he has had a cordial relationship with Harreld for years and that he has spoken with the university president twice since the announcement that sports were being eliminated.

In the first conversation, Kaminski said he told Harreld that the university was making a mistake and asking for time to put together a plan.

“I was a little turned off by the abruptness of (Harreld) saying they’re not going to be reinstated,” Kaminski said of that phone call. “The very large contingent of people that are fighting for this are not the kind of people that take 'no' for an answer directly and just go away quietly. Because we believe in this. We believe that there’s something inherently off and that it can be fixed and secured for the future.”

A week later, Kaminski was on a 90-minute call with Barta and Harreld, who seemed more receptive to hearing ideas, he said. Kaminski’s request was to announce immediately that the sports were being reinstated and then allow his group of alumni to come up with a plan that would make that financially viable.

“We need to reverse this thing before we lose all of the athletes that are there today,” Kaminski said.

“This is not a cost to the university today. The program is running for the next year. Something in this just does not feel right and that’s why you have these hundreds of alumni — these individuals who are not looking to cause disruption, they’re looking to help. They’re looking to be in the front lines of what will be the future of how these programs work? But we can’t do it from the outside. We have to be reinstated.”

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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