Iowa's Gary Barta readies himself for scrutiny of being the chairman of CFP committee

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Gary Barta wasn’t seeking to become the chairman of the powerful College Football Playoff committee after one year of service.

But Iowa’s athletic director was honored when he was asked to fill that role by CFP executive director Bill Hancock, he told reporters at a Monday news conference.

Barta will be the very visible public face of the 13-member committee that chooses the four football teams who will square off for the national championship this fall. He’ll be on ESPN every Tuesday evening in the final weeks of the season, explaining the rationale for its ranking of the top 25 teams.

It’s a big step for Barta, who has been Iowa’s athletic director since 2006. He said he’s ready.

“I was a student-athlete in the sport of football. I probably know the most and am most familiar with the sport of football,” said Barta, who was the backup quarterback at North Dakota State in the mid-1980s when the Bison won three Division II national titles.

Barta, a native of suburban Minneapolis, noted that he was the first member of his family to attend college, and football was the reason.

“There was no reasonable person who would have thought I would go to college,” he said.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said he didn't seek to be the new chairman of the College Football Playoff committee. But he was honored to be asked. Barta played football in college, and feels well-versed in the sport.

Barta was on the CFP committee in 2019, in the first of his three-year term. That involved meetings throughout the year in Dallas, in addition to teleconferences. And, of course, watching a lot of football games.

“When football season starts, that’s when the excuse for me to watch more football kicks in,” he said.

Barta records as many games as he can to watch Saturdays before or after the Hawkeyes play. On Sunday morning, CFP committee members get a link to games that can be watched without commercials and huddles.

On Sunday evenings throughout November and early December, they all fly to Dallas and are expected to have a list of their top 30 teams that they must defend when the committee meets Monday morning.

“And that’s where the fun begins,” Barta said.

The committee hashes out a top 25 Monday evening into Tuesday afternoon, and that is presented on live television that evening, often with much scrutiny. That’s when it will now be Barta’s turn to explain every choice before flying back to Iowa City late Tuesday night.

Barta is not allowed to be in the room whenever the Hawkeyes are discussed. He steps into the foyer during those deliberations and walks back in to see the final decision on Iowa’s ranking.

But, he said, he is looked to as the resident expert on the Big Ten Conference as a whole.

“Just because I’m around Big Ten teams more often. I’ve seen them in person,” Barta said. “And so it’s not a bias. It’s just an information-gathering.”

Barta, Ferentz have not discussed a succession plan

Barta said he will soon have his annual review with Kirk Ferentz after his 21st season as the Hawkeyes’ head football coach ended with a 10-3 record and a third consecutive bowl victory.

“It’s usually a very similar conversation. I’ll listen to him on X’s and O’s and whenever he’s thinking of moving a coach to a different position,” Barta said, adding he doesn’t anticipate any staff changes this year.

The meeting focuses instead on what Iowa needs to do in the next five years to remain competitive, whether it be new turf in the indoor practice facility or a new tower from which to videotape practice sessions.

What hasn’t been discussed is who will replace Ferentz when he decides to retire. Ferentz, who turns 65 in August, is under contract for five more years.

“He’s enjoying himself. He’s had a wonderful run, especially the last five years (a 47-19 record). His health is good,” Barta said.

“When the day comes, when he retires, I want to make sure we’re as ready as possible. But we haven’t had any specific discussions.”

Barta said he doubts he would have a single candidate in mind for the position and just hand the job to that person.

“I would anticipate we would interview. We generally do. And we follow the university process, too,” Barta said.

“I think we’d open it up. Some of that’s just speculation. Right now, we’re focusing on 2020.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

No one covers the Hawkeyes like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines to make sure you never miss a moment.