By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Women’s wrestling at Iowa is here. The university announced the addition Thursday.
But would it have happened if Iowa was had not reached a settlement in a Title IX lawsuit brought forth by female athletes?
Probably not, according to athletic director Gary Barta.
The decision also comes after Iowa faced backlash for cutting men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year due to budget cuts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Women’s swimming and diving has since been reinstated.
“As part of the Title IX settlement, we agreed to add a women’s sport,” Barta said. “Our decision was to add the sport of wrestling. At the University of Iowa, we believe that sport makes the most sense in terms of that. Again, always committed to Title IX, always have been. But now I’ll just tell you, and this is the bottom line. Were it not for COVID, we wouldn’t have cut sports.
“Were it not for the Title IX lawsuit, I wasn’t ready to add women’s wrestling yet. But I can tell you that, while the timing may be challenging, the decision is awesome. We’re excited about it and we’re ready to go forward.”
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According to Barta, the decision to start a women’s wrestling program wasn’t strictly due to the lawsuit. Barta said Iowa had been contemplating the idea for years. Plus, the Hawkeye Wrestling Club has had women participating since 2017.
The women’s program also will be stationed in Iowa’s new wrestling facility that Barta said should begin construction in spring 2022.
The proposed facility will be located south of Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the two buildings will be connected by a tunnel and will feature improved training facilities, as well as a Hall of Champions.
“When we started designing that, we were intentionally including women’s facilities in that training center with the anticipation that at some point we might add that sport,” Barta said. “We always have been committed to Title IX, we continue to be committed to Title IX.”
The NCAA recognized women’s wrestling as an emerging sport in 2020 for all three divisions. Currently, there are 45 intercollegiate women’s wrestling programs, including five in the state of Iowa. In addition, 32 states have a sanctioned high school girl’s wrestling state championships. In Iowa, over 600 girls participated in high school wrestling a year ago.
Barta said the target date for the women’s program to begin competition is the 2023-24 season, but that a search for a head coach will begin this fall and that head coach Tom Brands will be consulted during the hiring process.
“We will hire a coach,” Brands said. “It will be the best coach in America and look out, because when these steps start being taken – we’re at the first step here – but you look down the natural next steps, and that next step is the coach we hire. It’s going to be their program. The stakes are high for the new coach. We’re going to wrestle the best competition in United States.”
Brands said Thursday that he believes several other Big Ten schools are about close to adding women’s wrestling.