Gary Barta gives his reasons for reinstating women’s swimming and diving
Seems more like an attempt to avoid another lengthy and costly legal battle
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – From where I see things, Gary Barta and the University of Iowa ultimately caved and reinstated women’s swimming and diving for fear of possibly losing another embarrassing and costly legal battle.
I felt that way before Barta held a zoom conference with the media on Tuesday, and he said nothing during the 30-minute interview to change my mind.
Iowa announced on Monday that it would fully reinstate the women’s swimming and diving program after having cut it along with three other sports in August due to the financial shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
But then in September, four female Hawkeye swimming and diving student-athletes filed a complaint in district court alleging Title IX violations after learning their sport had been cut.
In December, Judge Stephanie Rose granted an injunction that prevents Iowa from cutting the women’s swimming and diving team.
That ruling was quickly appealed by the University of Iowa.
And then barely two weeks ago, the four student-athletes posted the $360,000 bond required by the judge, showing they are committed to staying the course in what could be a lengthy legal battle.
The bond is to cover costs the University of Iowa incurs in keeping the team active in case the university should prevail in the case.
So it seems abundantly clear that the four student-athletes aren’t going away quietly, and are willing to fight it out in court, whereas Iowa took a drastic step in hopes of avoiding another lengthy legal battle.
Because to have fully reinstated women’s swimming and diving barely six months after having cut it seems pretty drastic.
Especially with the global pandemic still a constant threat.
“There are differences of opinion that have come up through this law suit,” Barta said Tuesday in his opening statement. “That resolution, the attorneys will continue to work through it, and the legal process will continue. That resolution might take several months. It could take even a few years. And so at some point, we began to get to the point of saying, ‘what can we do that we can control to take uncertainty out of this equation? And that decision was to fully reinstate women’s swimming to give certainty to the current student athletes who are trying to decide what to do. To give certainty to recruits who are deciding, do they come to the University of Iowa if it’s only for a year under this mandate? To give certainty to our staff.
“So I decided, we decided, that the right thing to do was take away that uncertainty by fulling reinstating the women’s swimming program.”
When asked if women’s swimming and diving would have been reinstated without the lawsuit and injunction, Barta said:
“When we made the decision to discontinue four sports we had no intention of reinstating any of those teams. When the lawsuit occurred, we still were moving forward. When the injunction was made around the holiday season I was still hopeful that resolution would be made between the two sides because I knew the attorneys were talking regularly.
“It really has reached this point and the disagreements still exist. And so the reinstatement is based on that. Because it doesn’t look like a resolution is coming anytime soon. Again, could it last a couple months? Could it last a few years? I just made the decision that it was the right thing to do to move forward and reinstate the program. That gives the opportunity for current student-athletes, future student-athletes, and staff, to have certainty and move forward.”
It seems more a case in which Barta knows that Iowa could very well lose in court, just like it did when former Iowa field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, and former Iowa athletic administrator Jane Meyer, both won discrimination lawsuits against the University of Iowa in 2017. So Barta will do whatever he can to keep that from happening down the road.
Iowa agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle the Griesbaum and Meyer lawsuits, and now the fear of having to pay another huge settlement is just too big of a risk to take.
Again, this is how I’m interpreting Iowa’s motivation in this case.
In now way do I believe women’s swimming and diving would have been reinstated without the impact from lawsuit and the injunction.
Barta said the decision to reinstate women’s swimming and diving is permanent.
“I’ve been asked why I don’t use the term permanent,” Barta said. “It’s permanent like every other Olympic sport we have, or like any sport we have. It’s a permanent decision. They are fully reinstated as full members of the athletic department, and I have zero plans to cut any sports, including women’s swimming beyond this point.
“I can’t predict permanent. Is that forever? I can’t predict what will happen with name, image and likeness and other things happening in college sports. But yes, it is a full-fledged, no-look-back, fully-reinstated-moving-forward decision. Irregardless of what happens in the legal process, women’s swimming remains at Iowa.”
If we’ve learned anything from the lobal pandemic, nothing is permanent.
Iowa isn’t expected to lose quite as much money as once was feared since the Big Ten was able to play a limited football schedule last fall. Barta estimated that the deficit would be $50 to $60 million instead of the original estimate of $75 million.
“And that’s quite a range because there are several things, I mean the pandemic is still right in front of us,” Barta said. “It’s still going. None of can predict will the winter sports be completed? Specifically, will the NCAA Tournament be able to be played uninterrupted? We don’t know that yet.
“Will the vaccine be fully distributed by this summer? We all hope so, or at least those of who are interested in going through that process. Will we play a fill football season? We certainly hope so there as well, and I feel like it’s a pretty strong possibility. But don’t yet know. Will Kinnick be full? Will it not be? So all of that still remains, all that uncertainty.”
Despite all of the financial concerns and cutbacks, Barta said Iowa is interested in adding a women’s wrestling team, and is looking into it, but with no financial plans as of now.
I have nothing against women’s wrestling, and could see it being successful at Iowa. But the timing just seems odd in the wake of three men’s sports having been cut in August, and with Barta saying the global pandemic still is a financial threat.
Barta denied a report in the Des Moines Register in which the attorney for the four swimmers who filed the law suit accused Iowa of inflating scholarship numbers to be in compliance with Title XI requirements. The attorney said he still plans to pursue the case even with the swimming and diving team having been reinstated.
“I saw the plaintiffs’ attorney yesterday commented in the media that the university is inflating its numbers when counting student-athletes to be in compliance with title nine,” Barta said. “That’s not true. We work right off of the Office of Civil Rights methodology of counting. We’ve been committed to being in title nine compliance, and we’ll remain committed to being in title nine compliance.”
Whether Iowa is in compliance would seem pretty cut and dry and easy to prove.
As for the reasons behind the decision to reinstate women’s swimming and diving, Barta said he did it to erase uncertainty, and because it was the right thing to do.
But I think he did it with the hope of avoiding another lengthy legal battle that could prove costly down the road.
Iowa realizes that the four student-athletes are willing to fight for what they believe, and for what they feel is fair, so Barta is trying to make peace before it could get ugly and costly.