Mass exit already underway for Hawkeyes in discontinued sports

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

The four sports Iowa will cut as a result of losing the 2020 Big Ten football season won't be officially dissolved until after the 2020-21 academic year. But that doesn't mean those Hawkeyes affected aren't getting a head start on finding a new home.

As of Tuesday morning, 51 Hawkeyes from the affected sports — men's and women's swimming and diving, men's tennis and men's gymnastics — are already in the transfer portal, HawkCentral has learned.

The latest breakdown includes 25 from the women's swimming and diving team, 18 from the men's swimming and diving team and eight from the men's tennis team. The names in the portal currently account for 90% of the men's swimming and diving roster (18 of 20), 89% of the women's swimming and diving roster (25 of 28) and 67% of the men's tennis roster (8 of 12).

Speaking on a Monday Zoom call, athletics director Gary Barta said he urged these athletes to enter the transfer portal and explore all options. 

"We said to every student athlete," Barta said, "is No. 1, if you decide to stay and COVID allows, we'll compete this year in your sport. No. 2, if you decide to stay after that, we're with you until you graduate. So your scholarship will be here until you graduate. And No. 3, if you do decide to transfer, we will support you in any way we can and help you. 

"Under normal circumstances — what student athletes know and are told — when you put your name in the portal, the university regains control of that scholarship. And if you don't end up leaving, your coach and our department would have the choice of whether or not to bring you back based on several factors. But in this case, we encouraged student athletes to put their names in the portal. If they change their mind, they will be able to come back. We're not at all going to restrict them."

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Despite the high portal numbers, Barta said he thinks enough of those athletes will return to allow those four sports to compete as a team this season. And if not, Barta added that opportunity to compete individually could emerge.   

Currently, there are no 2020-21 schedules listed on Iowa's website for the four sports to be cut. The swimming and diving seasons runs October to March. Men's gymnastics goes January to April. And men's tennis runs October to May. Presumably, the fall portions of those schedule will not take place.     

"Whether or not if we'll have enough student athletes to compete, I know our coaches are committed to coaching them," Barta said. "I know in a sport like tennis, just to use that one as an example, there are NCAA rules about how many you have to have to have a team. But also tennis is a sport, for example, where you can compete individually. So is swimming, and to some degree, so is gymnastics.

"I don't think we're going to reach that, but if we did, our coaches could still coach those individuals and provide them with the chance to compete individually."      

The announcement came last Friday that Iowa would cut these four sports, marking the first Big Ten school to do so following the league's decision to postpone the 2020 football season to the spring amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Factors involved in which sports were chosen for cuts were outlined in the news release. Among them were historical competitive success; impact on Title IX compliance; the “investment required to achieve competitive excellence”; and expense savings. Barta said cutting these sports will save Iowa roughly $5 million.    

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.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.