Iowa athletics director Gary Barta updates relationship between Swarm Collective and university
NASHVILLE − On the eve of the 2022 TransPerfect Music City Bowl, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, along with their coordinators, met with reporters for one more round of pregame questions.
Each staff sized up Saturday's matchup (Saturday at 11 a.m. on ABC), but another central topic in college athletics came up: the usage of NIL (Name-Image-Likeness) in their programs.
At Iowa, growing tension between The Swarm Collective and the school's athletic administration has become a growing storyline this week. Swarm CEO Brad Heinrichs took to Twitter and other media platforms to protest a lack of support from Iowa compared to its peers in the Big Ten and beyond. His grievances include the collective not receiving a mailing list of current season-ticket holders, the athletic department withholding a Swarm promotional video made by Kirk Ferentz (which was later released) and not receiving a table at the department's Hawkeye Huddle in Nashville leading up to the bowl game.
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta released an open letter to fans Tuesday expressing his, and the university's, stance on NIL and how that pertains to The Swarm Collective. On Friday, Barta commented further on the current relationship and how the two sides can become more closely aligned.
"We both want the same thing," Barta said. "We want to promote the program, whether it's giving to the Swarm or giving to the I-Club or facilities, whatever it is I'm on board and I've been encouraging donors to give to the Swarm. I still have not talked to a single athletic director that said they've given up their mailing list or their donor information to their collective. I purposely reached out to a lot of them. Regardless of what others are doing, I just know it's not something that we're able to do. But we can continue to support the Swarm through other ways."
The university has previously cited Title IX compliance as a potential hurdle with the collective, though the Swarm is not obligated to uphold Title IX regulations because it's not an official NCAA entity. The Swarm Collective is targeted toward football and the men's and women's basketball programs. Barta also discussed that angle on Friday and whether a gender equity line could potentially be crossed.
"The Swarm has no responsibility for gender equity, I fully understand that I acknowledge that," Barta said. "Everything we do (as a university), we think through that lens of making sure we're fair to men and women. When it comes to name, image and likeness, we're going to continue to just make sure we're offering as much fairness to men and women as we can.
"Whatever we do to support the Swarm, it's really about how far we can go to promote it. And the biggest disagreement is not taking our personal information of our donors and our season-ticket holders. We're not going to do that. But we'll support them in many other ways."
One avenue of support that Barta noted was corporate sponsorship. The Swarm is an official sponsor, meaning that the organization is advertised at Iowa games and on Hawkeye radio broadcasts. As far as contacting season-ticket holders and donors, Barta expressed a willingness to reach out on the Swarm's behalf on occasion.
Barta's comments on Friday will hardly put an end to the discussion around Iowa athletics and The Swam Collective as NIL continues to work its way into the fabric of college athletics. What's clear is that both sides need to continue working on coming together to ensure competitiveness across multiple sports.
Here are a few more takeaways from Friday's jam-packed availability:
Phil Parker confirms Xavier Nwankpa will get his first start Saturday
On Wednesday, the Register reported that freshman and former five-star recruit Xavier Nwankpa was taking first-team snaps on defense ahead of Saturday's game. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker officially put an end to the mystery on Friday when he confirmed that Nwankpa will receive his first career start, likely in the place of All-American Kaevon Merriweather, who opted out to begin preparing for the 2023 NFL Draft.
"Probably the biggest guy I've seen jump is probably Xavier," Parker said. "He's really done a good job of taking a lot of reps, the improvement with just his understanding, the way he moves on the field has changed in the last three or four weeks. I'm really happy to see (it). It's going to be his first start. Let's see how he does. But really impressed with what he's doing."
Iowa coaches talk QB Joe Labas' development, preview Saturday's game plan
Kirk Ferentz noted on Friday that he's never been in a situation where his first- and second-team quarterbacks weren't available for a game at the same time, but that will be the case on Saturday when redshirt freshman Joe Labas starts his first career game.
Ferentz described the early bowl practices as "a little scary," but has been pleased with how Labas developed throughout December. Iowa's game plan will be the biggest storyline since the freshman has spent the past two seasons as a scout team quarterback, giving him limited reps with Iowa's native offense.
Open viewing periods during practice this week indicate that Iowa will implement more run-pass option plays and read-options to utilize Labas' running ability. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz spoke about how they've prepared Labas and the challenge of marrying his strengths to Iowa's scheme.
"Like anyone else, you want to tailor what you're doing to the player's strengths," Brian Ferentz said. "I think Joe has some different strengths (than) maybe the two guys that have played for us the last several years. You want to make sure you incorporate that into what you do.
"You're trying to walk into the game, it's like any other week. What's going to work? What is going to be good?How many ways can you dress that up and run it while incorporating the strengths of who is on the field that week? Whether it be the quarterback or anyone else."