Leistikow: Iowa's Gary Barta says 'Hawkeyes are going to be fine' in new college landscape
Gary Barta in the last week was met with some of the good parts about being a college athletics administrator for the past 34 years.
The 16-year Iowa athletics director attended a celebration last week with graduating seniors and witnessed the joy they experienced.
“There’s nothing better,” Barta said, “just watching families celebrate the fact that their son or daughter came here, competed for the Hawkeyes, walked across the stage and earned a degree.”
And then on Monday and Tuesday, he enjoyed in-person meetings at the Big Ten Conference’s offices for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. He left Chicago invigorated and reassured that education will remain a core principle for the Big Ten’s 14 institutions as the landscape of college sports continues to change at a breakneck pace.
“College athletics is going to be fine. The Iowa Hawkeyes are going to be fine,” Barta said. “Because we’ll adapt. It’ll be different. It’ll be a new day. But the core of it will still be (academics).”
Also in the past week, Barta experienced the negative side of his prominent role in college athletics. His suggestion that the NCAA could exert some control in roster movement by rescinding a one-time transfer provision received significant backlash.
Barta on Tuesday afternoon addressed his thoughts on transfers and other developing topics in an interview with the Des Moines Register as he made the drive home to Iowa City.
‘There is cheating going on’
Barta last week on the university’s in-house “Fight For Iowa” podcast said that taking away the one-time transfer provision — where a football or basketball player could change schools without sitting out a year of competition — would help curb what the NCAA views as against-the-rules inducements (disguised as name, image and likeness opportunities) being used to attract athletes from other schools.
“You don’t have to lose your scholarship. But you must sit out a year. Because we can control that,” Barta said on that podcast. “… A booster isn’t going to offer a student-athlete a big sum of money if they know they have to sit out a year.”
The comments were panned for being out of touch by a vocal segment of Iowa fans, many of whom said he was hurting recruiting efforts; that it wasn’t a good look for the highest-ranking athletics official at the university to be anti-transfer. In the Register interview, Barta noted that he was part of the committee that came up with the transfer recommendations and created the NCAA transfer portal. But that pre-dated NIL, which opened the pay-for-play floodgates.
To date, losing current athletes to other schools hasn’t been a widespread problem for Iowa. But in-state, we’ve seen a top freshman basketball player in Iowa State’s Tyrese Hunter enter the portal. Recently, the nation’s top football wide receiver in Pittsburgh’s Jordan Addison entered the portal. Some would say those are examples of a player-friendly rule that was long overdue in a college-sports world with coaches and even ADs making seven-figure salaries.
The NCAA last week reminded folks that boosters — who are defined as “representatives of a school's athletic interests” — are prohibited by rule to recruit or pay prospects. Meantime, some states (like Tennessee) have recently created legislation that broadens NIL rights. A five-star quarterback reportedly agreed in late March to an NIL collective deal worth $8 million to play for Tennessee.
“It feels like right now, it’s not sustainable. There is cheating going on surrounding name, image and likeness,” Barta said. “It’s become a bidding game for high school prospects or transfer prospects, or people on our own roster. When I made the comment about re-evaluating the transfer, I actually knew it would get some conversation going, and I was OK with that.”
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Barta said that considering that with universities guaranteeing a four-year scholarship, perhaps the NCAA could require a minimum two-year commitment from student-athletes.
“I haven’t yet heard the perfect scenario,” Barta said.
The latest on Iowa and NIL collectives
The idea of a “collective” is where donors pool money to connect student-athletes at their favorite school with opportunities to make money off their name, image and likeness. To date, Iowa doesn’t have a collective in place yet. In an interview Friday night with the Register and two TV stations, Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery said players that he tried to recruit from the transfer portal were seeking money. The Hawkeyes came up empty in their search for a center in the portal, with one top target picking Texas Tech and the other Ole Miss.
“We’ll do it the right way,” McCaffery said. “We won’t break the NCAA rules.”
To echo that point, Barta said Iowa has “probably lost a few recruits in various sports to someone who is offering a big amount of money to a recruit. But that’s breaking the rules.”
Barta said a group putting together a collective in support of the Hawkeyes is moving forward and has been in contact with the university.
“They have come to us and said, ‘Whatever we do, just educate us. Because we want to do it the right way,’” Barta said. “The people that have asked about it, they love Iowa, they love the Hawkeyes, they want to help students, they want to remain competitive in athletics. But they want to do it the right way.”
The Iowa AD seemed optimistic that the collective would be in place by the end of the summer. Such an arrangement, while not tied directly to athletics, would obviously be an asset for the Hawkeyes in acquiring (and keeping) talent. Barta indicated this group's efforts would be, in part, tied to charities. For example, an athlete could be compensated for using his or her time or social-media accounts to promote certain charitable causes.
“Some have said Iowa is getting behind,” Barta said. “We’re not getting behind, in my opinion.”
Barta is content with a methodical approach, as the NCAA threatens to punish collectives that have (allegedly) been playing fast and loose with rules.
“What I hope the NCAA is going to do now is pick out a couple of cases they know they can win and move forward on quickly and then hand down sanctions,” Barta said. “If a few examples are able to be put forward and sanctions come down on those schools, clearly that would help in slowing it down.”
Iowa set to institute academic awards
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 9-0 in the case of NCAA v. Alston in June 2021 opened the door for colleges to provide academic bonuses to athletes for up to $5,980 per year. Earlier this month, Ohio State announced plans to spend roughly $6 million in the upcoming academic year to fund the initiative at the "legally established maximum."
Barta said Iowa, too, will reward athletes for their accomplishments in the classroom beginning this fall, though final details were still being worked out. Ohio State’s plan, for example, would cut two $1,495 checks per semester to athletes who are good academic standing, fully enrolled in classes and on track for their degree. There is no minimum GPA requirement. Over four years, that total tab per athlete could reach nearly $24,000.
Barta said the proposed Iowa plan would include “a current year incentive and an accumulated incentive for when student-athletes finish their career at Iowa. If they stay and finish their degree, they’ll receive a graduation benefit as well."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.