With Big Ten football coming back, Iowa alumni ask for 4 sports to be removed from chopping block

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Eight hours after the Big Ten Conference announced it was intending to conduct a fall football season after all, a group of Iowa alumni called on athletic director Gary Barta to immediately reverse his decision to eliminate four sports programs.

Barta said Aug. 24 that he was cutting men's gymnastics, men's tennis, and men's and women's swimming and diving to offset financial losses brought on by the absence of a football season, the group called Save Iowa Sports pointed out in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re concerned that we will lose great athletic talent, as well as tuition and other economic support for the university if this problem is not fixed immediately,” Matt Purdy said in the release.

Purdy is a former Hawkeye football player whose son, Ryan, is on the swimming team.

Barta has said he will not reconsider his decision, which came at a time he was estimating a loss of revenue of up to $100 million for his athletic department. It is unclear how much of that loss will be offset by the planned nine-game Big Ten football season announced Wednesday morning. Those games will all be held without paying customers in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the league said. And there's no guarantee that all of them will be played.

Coach Ross Wilson (middle) speaks with his Iowa men's tennis team last winter. That program is one of four scheduled to be eliminated as part of a cost-cutting measure by Hawkeye athletic director Gary Barta. But a group of Iowa alumni are asking for that decision to be reversed now that the Big Ten Conference is attempting to play a fall football schedule.

Save Iowa Sports had asked to speak about Iowa's plan to cut four of its 24 sports programs at the Sept. 23 Iowa Board of Regents meeting. The board denied that request.

“We are asking for what I would call minimal transparency around the debt that the athletic department has accumulated and the rationale on choosing these storied programs for elimination. In Iowa, the Board of Regents seems to be deflecting responsibility in UI oversight,” former Iowa swimmer Vickie Nauman said in the news release. “The Board response parroting the COVID-19 excuse and refusing to even hear or address our questions is a direct avoidance of their responsibility.”

Save Iowa Sports is also asking for an audit of Iowa's athletic spending, citing six concerns raised by the decision to eliminate sports. Those are:

  • Impact on student athletes, short term and long term
  • Title IX violations
  • Legality of closing a program with the bonding agreement for the $70 million (swimming and diving) facility
  • Strain of donor relations both legal and trust-related
  • Financial irregularities
  • Lack of transparency and oversight of the athletic department.

It is unknown when Barta will next meet with reporters to address the fate of the four sports. He has said the elimination of the four sports will save his department $5 million annually.

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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