Iowa athletic director Gary Barta says he's confident Black graduation rate will improve
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday that three Black football players who are planning to transfer will go through an exit-interview process to try to determine if their experience as Hawkeyes could have been improved.
That’s now standard for any athlete who leaves Iowa without a degree, Barta explained. But the urgency was heightened this summer when dozens of coach Kirk Ferentz’s former football players raised concerns about racial mistreatment during their time here.
A law firm investigated those claims and found there were problems that need to be addressed. Among them: A 2018 study by the university that found it ranked last in the 14-member Big Ten Conference with a 42% graduation rate of Black athletes, compared with 81% of white athletes.
Iowa began its football season Oct. 24 at Purdue. Since then, running back Shadrick Byrd, linebacker Yahweh Jeudy and wide receiver Calvin Lockett have entered the NCAA transfer portal. All three players have been at Iowa three years or less, are Black and hail from the Deep South.
“It’s troubling any time a student-athlete leaves our program before their eligibility is up and they don’t have a degree,” Barta said.
When they do, Barta said the first step is for their coach to discuss the reasons for the transfer. Then, the university compliance office extends an opportunity for the player to talk. Finally, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion branch of the athletic department, led by former Hawkeye player Broderick Binns, reaches out.
Barta has said that the low graduation rate of Black athletes is being addressed with a plan that includes a better understanding in the recruitment process of academic goals. Once on campus, Iowa is trying to ensure that there are mentors available for athletes who want to talk, particularly if it’s a Black player with a white coach. Finally, he said the school is providing ample tutoring resources to all athletes.
Barta said there was “a small uptick (in the graduation rate) last year among Black male student-athletes.” The next data will arrive later this month.
“We don’t expect that it’s going to change overnight,” Barta said. “It’s something we’re committed to. It’s something we’re working hard on. And certainly over time, I’m confident that those rates will increase.”
The lawyers who investigated the football program also recommended racial-bias training for the coaching staff. Barta said there has been a couple of those sessions, and that they will be ongoing and department-wide.
Barta addressed a range of other topics at the monthly meeting of the Presidential Committee on Athletics.
The Hawkeyes have been practicing since Oct. 14, with first games possible as early as Nov. 25. But neither a men’s nor women’s schedule has been released, which Barta acknowledged is causing frustration. The reason is that the Big Ten is still finalizing its protocols for COVID-19 testing for nonconference schools. The Big Ten is offering daily antigen tests to all of its athletes when they’re in season. But the men’s basketball season can have up to seven nonconference games, and the women can have up to five. Not every league tests as strenuously as the Big Ten.
Barta expects those protocols, including what would happen if a visiting player tests positive on a Big Ten campus, will be finalized in a couple of days. Barta said Iowa intends to play Iowa State as one of its nonconference games. North Carolina and Gonzaga are two other opponents announced for the men’s season.
Women’s coach Lisa Bluder said she is planning on playing all three in-state Division I rivals, which would include Drake and Northern Iowa.
Cost of testing
Barta said Iowa has already racked up $2.5 million of expenses related to COVID-19 testing in the athletic department. That figure will rise once athletes in Olympic sports enter their seasons.
“It’s what we need to do in order to train and compete safely,” he said. “But it really has been a challenging and interesting dynamic.”
The Big Ten has contracted with Biodesix Inc. and Quidel Corp. to handle the testing, with costs split among the 14 universities.
Barta previously estimated his department would run a deficit between $40 million and $60 million this fiscal year because of the pandemic. After receiving more information about testing costs and the size of TV contracts for football and men’s basketball, he believes it will be toward the higher end of that figure.
He hopes to have a more precise number in January. The university will help the athletic department find financing for that deficit.
“We will pay 100 percent of it back, but it will probably take over a decade,” he said.
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Barta is among Big Ten athletic directors holding out hope that a limited number of fans will be allowed into football stadiums this season. The league so far has allowed only family members to attend.
The decision will ultimately be made by university presidents, but Barta is pushing for the league to let each campus, in consultation with local medical experts, to decide whether to accept paying customers, and how many. Iowa has only two home football games left after Saturday’s contest against Michigan State, so time is running short.
But the same discussion could surround basketball and wrestling seasons. Barta pointed out that talk about fans comes at a time when Iowa is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. The state set a single-day record of 4,562 new cases Thursday.
“Right now might be a really bad time to have that discussion because in our own state there continues to be a very big concern about the disease and the spread,” Barta said.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.