Iowa AD Gary Barta details vision, future of Hawkeyes athletics

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Sure, there was apprehension a year ago for Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, he conceded in an interview Friday with The Des Moines Register.

His contract was set to expire at the end of this June and the Iowa Board of Regents was about to hire a new president who would decide Barta’s fate.

“The uncertainty is always uncomfortable,” Barta said. “I have two kids, two high schoolers, so I certainly didn’t want them to have to move.”

Barta, who was concluding his ninth year in Iowa City, said he never “seriously” explored other jobs.

“But I started to make sure that I was prepared one way or another,” he said. “I’d have to earn the respect of the new president.”

By January, after the Hawkeye football team had a perfect regular season and landed a spot in the Rose Bowl and with the men’s basketball team contending for the top spot in the Big Ten Conference, new Iowa president Bruce Harreld was rewarding Barta with a five-year contract extension that provides for a raise from his $400,000 salary to $550,000 beginning in July.

“It felt great,” Barta said as he wraps up a 10th year that makes him the third-longest-tenured athletic director in the Big Ten (Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez and Ohio State’s Gene Smith have been in place 11 years).

“Anytime someone validates what you’ve been doing and says 1. we want you to stay and 2. we want you to be compensated similar to your peers.”

In a 30-minute interview, Barta also addressed the impact a winning football team has on an entire campus, negotiations for a new Big Ten media-rights deal, the status of a renovation project that would alter the north end zone at Kinnick Stadium, and more. Excerpts:

TOPIC 1: Television revenue

The Big Ten is negotiating its next multimillion-dollar media-rights deal with an announcement expected by the end of the summer. Commissioner Jim Delany is thought to be looking for a payout of $500 million annually and has said that ESPN may or may not be a part of it. Each of the league’s member schools could net $44 million per year from the deal, which is the biggest driver of profits.

Barta, 52, said the influx of TV money is one of the biggest shifts he’s seen in his time as a college athletic administrator, praising Delany for taking a risk by launching the Big Ten Network nine years ago (indeed, Barta’s office TV was tuned to the network’s broadcast of Iowa’s baseball game when our interview commenced).

Barta: I know this — it’s going to be a terrific package, both in terms of coverage, the households we reach, the brand of the Big Ten, the brand of the television partner we have and then financially I know it’s going to be significant.

DMR: Are you OK if it doesn’t include ESPN?

Barta: I’m OK if it’s a great package. It may include ESPN. I’m not going to speculate. Right now, all the TV industry is very interested in our package, so we’ll see where it shakes out.

DMR: What has TV money enabled you to do?

Barta: Well, you’re sitting in a new building in Carver-Hawkeye Arena that was built. We’ve renovated Kinnick Stadium. We built a new boathouse. We built a new pool. We have plans to build a new baseball and softball stadium. Much of that gets attributed to the fact that we have more revenue and a big part of that revenue is TV.

TOPIC 2: The importance of a winning football team

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 18th season as Hawkeye football coach, a remarkable run for his profession. But apathy was starting to fill the fan base after a five-year stretch produced a middling 34-30 record heading into 2015. Season-ticket sales were down 17 percent and Barta knew he was going to have to dip into his reserve fund to make up a revenue shortfall this year. The Hawkeyes responded with a 12-2 season, a Rose Bowl appearance, and a ripple effect of goodwill felt throughout the athletic department.

Barta: When we sat here a year ago at this time, we talked a lot about we needed some momentum. … Now a year later, certainly football had a great deal to do with that. All boats rise. When the Hawkeyes win, it has an impact on the state of Iowa. It has an impact on the mood of our community and our campus and it has a great impact on our athletic department. We had so much momentum this year beyond football. Men’s basketball had another great year. We were on (the cover of) Sports Illustrated three times. We had a wrestling event in Kinnick Stadium.

DMR: But without football’s success, wouldn’t all of that be dulled?

Barta: Football is a huge part of college athletics and yes, we needed momentum in football. But momentum’s been great in all sports.

DMR: I assume you’re seeing that reflected in season-ticket sales.

Barta: We already know we have between 5,500 and 6,000 new requests for tickets. That number in itself is exciting. We still have quite a bit of work to do.

DMR: How are you going to handle Week 3 (when Iowa hosts Barta’s alma mater, North Dakota State)?

Barta: I know where my paycheck comes. I have great, great affinity for my alma mater. But on that Saturday, that’s an easy one: Go Hawks. … The one thing I know is the Bison travel well. They fill their stadium, they travel well to away games. … So there will be a strong contingent. My goal is to sell as many of the tickets to Hawkeye fans first so there aren’t very many left when the NDSU fans start buying tickets.

TOPIC 3: Kinnick Stadium renovations

In August, the Board of Regents gave Barta the green light to develop a plan for what was estimated to be a $35-45 million renovation of the north end zone in Kinnick Stadium. Barta said Friday that architects are working on the proposal but that it is already clear the price tag will be higher. The next step is to bring the plan to the board. There is no timetable for when that will occur or when the project will be completed.

Barta: While we’re doing new restrooms, new concession stands — which need it — new infrastructure, while we’re doing that, in today’s world, we’re going to look at adding premium seating, club seats and different types of seating so that we have something for every fan. You have the bench seat, you have the next step up, the next step up and you have all price points for all fans. Basically, think about completely removing the north end zone and putting in its place a new structure that looks like the old structure, that mixes with the old structure and serves our fans.

DMR: Is the plan to have it done by 2017?

Barta: No, not by 2017. We haven’t set a goal. … Once we have the plans developed, then I’ll go back to the Board of Regents because the price tag will be different than the price tag we initially estimated. We already know it’s going to be higher than that. When we get there, we’ll tell them how much it’s going to be, what it’s going to look like and how we’re going to pay for it. There is a misperception that the Board of Regents approved the funding. The Board of Regents doesn’t provide athletics any funding at the University of Iowa. They do have oversight to make sure that we’re making good decisions.

TOPIC 4: His goals for the Iowa athletic department

Barta said the question of why Harreld gave him that contract extension and raise would be better put to the president himself. But he pointed to the graduation rates of athletes (89 percent the past two years, six points above the national average), the stability of coaches like Ferentz, women’s basketball’s Lisa Bluder (17th year) and men’s basketball’s Fran McCaffery (seventh year), and the $250 million in facility upgrades that have occurred in his 10 years as points of pride. As for his next five years?

Barta: We haven’t won a Big Ten championship in every sport, right? So until we do that I’m not going to rest. … I want to make sure every sport we have is always at the middle of the Big Ten or higher. That doesn’t sound very aspirational. But what I mean by that is I want to win a championship in every sport, but I know we’re not going to win a championship from last place. So we’ve got to get every program so that they’re in the middle or higher all the time so that in any given year they can win a championship.

DMR: That sounds impossible.

Barta: That’s great, then. That gives me job security. I can keep working for a while.