Gary Barta hopeful for — but not counting on — capacity Iowa football crowds at Kinnick Stadium
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa is selling tickets for its seven home football games this fall but hasn’t yet decided whether to fill Kinnick Stadium to capacity, athletic director Gary Barta said Tuesday.
The Big Ten Conference has had a no-fans policy in place for fall and winter sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that may be eased this month when conference basketball tournaments occur in Indiana. Iowa has been allowing relatives of its athletes to attend games, but has not sold tickets to a home event since last March, when the pandemic took hold.
Barta, who pushed for looser attendance limits last fall, is hopeful that concerns about the pandemic will have been alleviated by the time the 2021 football season kicks off Sept. 4 in Iowa City.
But he isn’t yet ready to budget for 100% attendance, either.
“Every reasonable person believes that, with the vaccines and where we’re headed, that there will be some attendance,” Barta said.
“We haven’t locked in what we’re going to conservatively budget. I hope that it’s 100%. If it's 50, 60, 70, 80, I’ll take it. I hope for all of our sake and for the enjoyment in seeing Kinnick full again that it will be 100%. Obviously, we can’t predict the future. So we haven’t received any direction on how many it might be. We’re confident that there will be fans. We just don’t know yet how many.”
Iowa’s opening game is scheduled to be against Indiana. It is rare for the Hawkeyes to begin a season with a conference foe. That game is also slated for Labor Day weekend, which is when Barta has indicated he would be willing to host a Friday night game if that’s what the Big Ten wanted.
Barta has said he prefers to avoid Friday games that will conflict with high school football on other fall weekends.
“We haven’t been asked to move it at this point,” Barta said of the season-opener.
President Joe Biden said earlier Tuesday that he believes every American adult who wants a COVID-19 vaccine should be able to receive one by the end of May. That will certainly alter the thinking of the Big Ten as it decides on attendance policies for the fall. A season without football fans represents approximately a $20 million loss at Iowa in ticket sales alone.
Barta said last summer that he anticipated a budget deficit that could approach $70 million due to the impact of COVID-19. That is the reason he cited for cutting 40 positions in his department, for asking employees to take pay cuts, and for eliminating four of his 24 sports programs. He did reverse course on one — women’s swimming and diving — after a Title IX lawsuit was brought against the university.
Barta said his department will need to go into debt in order to recover from the lost revenue. But the amount of any loan he will take out has not yet been determined. He said he’s working with the university controller on that front, and that it may not be until the June 30 end of the fiscal year that a final determination is made. There is no hard deadline for when to take out the loan, he added.
The interest rate on the loan and a repayment plan also need to be figured out. Barta believes it may take 10-15 years to pay off.
“On June 30, our fiscal year ends and we would close our books on this fiscal year, so we would have a good feel for what our deficit was going to be at that time,” Barta said.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.