University of Iowa cuts four sports in wake of COVID-19 pandemic, loss of fall football

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The University of Iowa is cutting four varsity sports programs after the 2020-21 academic year, a direct result of the cancellation of the fall football season and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving will be discontinued, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and UI president Bruce Harreld announced Friday.

The moves drop Iowa’s sponsorships of sports from 24 to 20, with 12 women’s sports and eight men’s sports remaining. All existing scholarships will be honored through graduation, the UI said.

Factors involved in which sports were chosen for cuts were outlined in the news release. Among them: historical competitive success; impact on Title IX compliance; the “investment required to achieve competitive excellence;” and expense savings.

Men's and women's swimming will be cut at Iowa after the 2020-21 season, along with men's gymnastics and men's tennis.

That last point is what Barta and Harreld cited in their letter distributed Friday. Iowa’s anticipated budget shortfall this fiscal year is between $60 million and $75 million — almost all of that because of lost income from football. Iowa projects $100 million in lost revenue in 2020-21 without football.

“A loss of this magnitude will take years to overcome,” Barta and Harreld wrote. “We have a plan to recover, but the journey will be challenging.”

Cutting four sports begins to chip away at the deficit. Last month, the Register published an analysis of Iowa's athletics finances that outlined what each sport at Iowa costs against what it brings in.

In fiscal year 2019, men’s gymnastics spent $922,773 more than it brought in. The deficits of expenses versus revenues for the other programs being cut: $698,809 for men’s tennis; $1,280,146 for men’s swimming/diving; and $1,364,698 for women’s swimming/diving. Add those up, and the total “savings” (one way to put it) is a shade over $4.25 million annually. Multiply that number by five years, and the overall savings would top $20 million. Obviously that doesn’t make up $60 million-plus, so other cuts will be coming from the university — probably in administrative staff, travel budgets and furloughs/salary reductions.

The reason for cutting three men’s sports in combination with just one women’s sport is to position Iowa to be compliant with Title IX, the federal law that says universities that accept public money must not discriminate. In sports-speak, that means the number of men’s scholarships must closely mirror the number of women’s scholarships. The FBS maximum for scholarships for men’s gymnastics (6.3), men’s tennis (4.5) and men’s swimming/diving (9.9) add up to 20.7 scholarships; the maximum for women’s swimming/diving is 14.

Iowa is the first Big Ten Conference university to announce sports-program cuts, but it won't be the last, given the financial crunch all 14 schools will be under with last week's football announcement. Barta is scheduled to hold a 2 p.m. Monday news conference on the matter.