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Gary Barta stands firm on cutting four Iowa sports, ponders how to handle football bonuses

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday that he was assured by a consultant that his department would be in compliance with Title IX before he went forward with a plan to eliminate four sports.

Barta is facing a lawsuit over that decision announced Aug. 21. He reiterated Thursday that his department is still facing a budget deficit of $50-60 million this fiscal year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is why he chose to cut men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, men’s swimming and diving, and women’s swimming and diving after this season.

More:Iowa athletic director Gary Barta says four sports being eliminated cannot be saved

Four Hawkeye women’s swimmers initiated the class-action suit Sept. 25, claiming that the university was already violating the federal law requiring gender-equity in sports opportunities, and that Barta’s decision only exacerbated that. They are seeking the restoration of their sport, and the possible addition of another women’s program. A judge issued an injunction in December barring Iowa from ending its women’s swimming and diving program until the matter is resolved, but the university has appealed that ruling.

More:Four Hawkeye swimmers file Title IX complaint; university quickly dismisses accusations

“We did engage with a consultant who we worked with in the past. That (Title IX) was one of the considerations,” Barta said. “We’ve always been committed to gender-equity and being in compliance with Title IX. We continue to be committed to that, and so that was part of the process when we went through it.”

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta says he is checked with a Title IX consultant before proceeding with his plan to eliminate his women's swimming and diving program. He is now being sued over that decision.

Two experts in Title IX law interviewed by the Register last month said they believe Iowa will have difficulty winning the case if it goes to trial. Several universities have backed off of plans to cut women’s sports teams when litigation was threatened, most recently Dartmouth, which removed five of its programs from the chopping block last Friday rather than risk a trial.

Barta, however, said he has no intention of reversing his decision, although he conceded the court case may force him to maintain women’s swimming.

“We’ll see where that ends up,” he said of the lawsuit.

More:Stakes high for Iowa, Barta in Title IX lawsuit: Experts say swimmers have a good case

As for the other sports: “Because the financial consideration that created (the decision to cut them) is still there, that’s the ongoing plan.”

Barta has said he will save $5 million annually by not fielding the four sports. That would leave the Hawkeyes with 20 athletic teams.

Barta is still working with the university’s administration to secure a loan to cover the budget shortfall he is anticipating this year. He originally estimated a $75 million gap in August, but that was before the Big Ten Conference decided to proceed with a fall football season. That lowered, but did not eliminate, the financial hit, Barta said.

“That challenge is still right in front of us,” he said.

The loan has not been finalized yet, but Barta said it will likely be spread out over 10-15 years.

Barta has eliminated about 40 positions in his department, cut salaries by up to 10% and has asked all his contracted employees (primarily coaches) to donate portions of their salary to help offset the financial loss.

He said he is still working out whether football coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff will get their incentive bonuses for this year. Ferentz would be due $175,000 for finishing in the top 15 of the coaches’ poll after the Hawkeyes went 6-2.

It becomes trickier, though, to determine whether Ferentz and his staff will get credit for earning an invitation to the Music City Bowl, because the game was ultimately canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak on Missouri’s team. Ferentz normally receives an additional $100,000 if his team “participates” in a bowl game.

Furthermore, Ferentz’s assistant coaches would be eligible for 12% raises if Iowa had won seven games, played in a bowl and were ranked in the top 15 of any major poll.

A USA Today survey in December found some schools were paying bonuses to football coaches during the pandemic and others weren’t. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, for example, was among coaches who waived the additional money he normally would have received.

More:College football coaches' bonuses in COVID pandemic: Who's getting paid, who's not and who might

Barta said the Hawkeyes “had an incredible year,” considering on-field success while dealing with all of the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic.

With regards to bonus money that he may pay, he said: “We’re certainly going to have some unique decisions and outcomes, but we haven’t finalized all that.”

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.