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

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta made it clear Monday that there’s no plan to salvage the four sports programs he is eliminating, even if donors step forward to make an attempt.

“I don’t want to create any false hope. The decision to cut these sports is final,” Barta told reporters in his first public comments since announcing Friday that the Hawkeyes will no longer field varsity programs in men’s gymnastics, men’s or women’s swimming and diving, or men’s tennis after this school year.

“I know there’s people who want to help. The dollars just are so large that there really is no path forward to change this decision.”

Barta estimated that cutting Iowa’s sports offerings from 24 to 20 will save more than $5 million annually at a time when his department is staring at a $100 million hole in its revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of both the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March and this fall’s Big Ten Conference football season. Those are the only two sports at Iowa that turn a profit, with football financing practically the entire operation.

Iowa swimmers celebrated in the diving pool after hosting the Big Ten Conference meet in January 2019. But a year later, Hawkeyes swimmers and divers have been told their sport will no longer be sponsored at a varsity level as the university cuts its sports budget.

That means more salary reductions are on the way, Barta said, and will be announced later. He’s also working on taking out a $75 million loan that Iowa may spend 15 years paying off. Barta said he’s been told that he won’t be able to draw on revenue from elsewhere at the university to make those finances work.

“We have no plans to cut additional sports. We think that this is the last we’ll have to do that,” Barta said.

“We have created a path forward. We’ve been working on this plan. It’s ugly. It’s hard. It includes more difficult decisions than I would choose to make.”

More:Leistikow: Here come the ripple effects of Big Ten's lack of fall football

Barta said he started working with his staff and university president Bruce Harreld immediately after the Big Ten made its decision Aug. 11 to not play football in the fall, but rather attempt a shorter season in the winter or spring. He said that many sports were considered for elimination, but they ultimately settled on the four that “we felt were going to best position us to come out of this pandemic once it’s all over. … I knew we couldn’t move forward supporting 24 sports at a competition level that we expect.”

Iowa became the first Big Ten school to announce a reduction in its sports offerings, but Barta believes that such decisions will become common around the nation if football is not played this fall, or is played with a reduced schedule and in the absence of paying customers. The Pac-12 has also scrapped football for the fall, while the ACC, Big 12 and SEC are planning 10-game schedules to begin next month, with varying limitations on attendance. 

“That funding model is in serious jeopardy,” Barta said of major-college football’s ability to prop up entire athletic departments. “This is something that is going to change college sports for a long time to come.”

Barta met with the coaches of the four sports being cut in person on Friday to explain his decision. He then spoke for a couple of minutes with all of the athletes affected before having staff members answer individual questions from them.

By Monday, 48 Hawkeye athletes in the four sports had already submitted their names to the NCAA transfer portal. Barta said that development was expected, and encouraged. He said he told his athletes to explore their options, and that none would lose their scholarship if they decided to stay at Iowa. The intent is to still field teams in the four sports, if their seasons are played this winter or spring. Barta also pointed out that all the sports being cut offer the opportunity for athletes to compete for individual championships if there aren’t enough Hawkeyes remaining to form a team.

More:Mass exit already underway for Hawkeyes in discontinued sports

Barta called Friday “one of the most difficult days of my career.”

He has been athletic director at Iowa since 2006 and often touts his department’s guiding philosophy of “Win. Graduate. Do it right.”

But Barta denied that the sports targeted for elimination were viewed as underperforming. One of the criteria he used to make the call was “current and future prospect for success of the sport.”

“When our teams are successful, it’s because our student-athletes competed and won and our coaches helped them get there, and I give all the credit to them,” Barta said.

“When a team doesn’t have the amount of success, I absolutely look myself right in the mirror and think about what I should have done or could have done to give that team a better chance to succeed.”

Iowa is scheduled to host the NCAA swimming and diving championships in March. Barta said he informed the governing body of his intent to discontinue his program and hasn't heard back yet about whether that event is still coming to Iowa City, which would be a bittersweet culmination to the career of some Hawkeye athletes.

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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