IOWA CITY, Iowa – Faced with a Title IX lawsuit, a sputtering football program and some promotional decisions that leave you scratching your head, Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta is navigating through rough water these days.
Whether he ultimately sinks remains to be seen.
But in my opinion, the good still outweighs the bad where Barta is concerned, even more so after the news on Wednesday that the Iowa Board of Regents approved plans to spend $135 to $150 million on upgrades at the University of Iowa, including improvements to Kinnick Stadium’s North End Zone.
The proposal calls for a $35 to $45 million upgrade to the north stands, which are sorely in need of it after having not been changed since 1983.
Say what you want about Barta’s performance because he has made some questionable decisions that could have serious consequences, how serious in some cases like the field hockey situation is yet to be determined.
But Barta also deserves credit for enhancing Iowa’s sports facilities under his watch.
That’s not the same as winning games, matches or tournaments, but it’s an important part of an athletic director’s legacy. Barta can raise money with the best of them, or so I’m told.
He’s driven. He’s friendly. And he has a knack for convincing fans to spend money on the future.
Iowa seems determined to stay on pace with its football facilities after falling behind in previous decades. That’s a reflection of Barta’s leadership and vision.
As for the negative stuff surrounding Barta, some of the criticism is deserved, including giving Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz a 10-year contract with a buyout that’s more one-sided than an Iowa City Regina football game, and giving a 7-year contract to former men’s basketball coach Todd Lickliter.
In both cases, it was just too much security, if there is such a thing, at the expense of the athletic department.
Barta made up for the Lickliter debacle by hiring Fran McCaffery in 2010. So far, Fran has proven to be the right man for the job, leading Iowa to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons.
It’s hard to make a judgment on whether Tracey Griesbaum’s firing as the Iowa field hockey coach was justified because both sides are steadfast in their beliefs and because so much of what we hear is based on rumor, speculation and biased opinions from two sides of this controversy.
So overall, Barta still gets my vote of confidence. But the situation is fluid.
OUTDOOR WRESTLING ON ITS WAY: The University of Iowa wrestling account is expected to announce on Twitter at noon Thursday its plans to host an outdoor wrestling match on Nov. 14 at Kinnick Stadium.
The match would be held hours before Iowa’s 7 p.m. football game against Minnesota. I’m hearing the opponent will be Oklahoma State.
Weather aside, it seems like a great idea, partly because it’s so different than anything that we’re used to seeing.
You hope that Mother Nature would cooperate. But if not, who better to handle her wrath than a bunch of focused and determined wrestlers from two elite programs?
Braving the elements is just part of being a wrestler. And now that includes being outside in mid-November. I’m for anything that promotes a sport in an entertaining fashion. The thought of two accomplished wrestlers competing on a mat as snow falls around them qualifies as entertaining in my book.
The beauty with Iowa wrestling is that watching head coach Tom Brands and his twin brother and top assistant Terry Brands sometimes is more entertaining than what’s taking place on the mat. Putting them in a new environment should only enhance their appeal.
The sport of wrestling needs to be more appealing to those who aren’t hardcore followers of the sport. What Iowa hopes to pull off would certainly help in that regard.
Part of the incentive for holding a match at Kinnick Stadium is to wrestle away the current attendance record that is held by Penn State.
The risk in challenging Penn State is that from a numbers standpoint, Iowa probably doesn’t stand a chance. Whatever Iowa could do to attract wrestling fans, Penn State could do it on a larger scale because it has the resources – fans and facilities – to do so.
Imagine the crowd that would flock to Beaver Stadium if the Penn State wrestling team follows Iowa’s example by staging an outdoor match there.
But I applaud Iowa for trying to raise the bar. Make Penn State keep earning the distinction of having the biggest crowd, while also making it fun for the fans.
The University of Iowa is fortunate to have one of the greatest college wrestling programs of all time, if not the greatest. Wrestling outside before the Iowa football team plays a rare night game would be a clever way to take advantage of that.