There is a question I’ve been asking myself more and more lately: Why is Gary Barta still the athletic director at the University of Iowa?
Last week there was an apparent “resolution” of a two-year-old Title IX complaint that was filed by four former Iowa field hockey players. A PDF of the first seven pages of the complaint can be found here, but in essence, they allege a culture of discriminatory practices towards female athletes and coaches at Iowa by the athletic department and, more specifically, Gary Barta.
According to the Gazette’s Erin Jordan in a recent piece on the closing of the investigation:
“Federal investigators, who visited the UI in April 2016, said there was insufficient evidence to show the UI favored male student-athletes in six categories, including financial aid, scheduling of games or travel.”
But they did find that there were disparities in equipment, recruiting, and locker rooms. It goes on, and what she writes is damning.
“The Athletic Department in 2015-2016 spent an average $4,249 per male student-athlete on equipment and supplies, but just $2,012 per female student-athlete. Investigators found UI men’s sports teams had more recruiting trips, the softball locker room is ‘small and unsatisfactory’ and football players stay in a hotel the night before competitions.”
The report explained that no women are provided these benefits.
Iowa is promising that it will fix the above-summarized issues on its own. All the athletic department really has to do is provide reports that prove they’ve fixed these problems.
The university also views the closing of the investigation as a victory. In a statement, the UI focuses on the Department of Education’s conclusion that “no violation of any regulation under Title IX” was found.
The so-called victory is not a victory at all.
Even though Iowa escaped serious violations from the federal government, the disturbing fact that there were stark inequalities among male and female athletes remains.
As a reminder, Iowa’s yearly athletic department budget is north of $100 million. There’s absolutely no defendable reason this should be happening.
With Barta’s track record, though, there’s reason to believe these changes to women’s athletics might not be handled correctly. There was the strange episode with the rowing team, for example, where the fact that Iowa had 89 participants in 2014 (which is 40 percent larger than the 64.4 athlete average in women’s rowing for other Division-I schools) called into question whether the sport was added to help inflate the number of women student-athletes, and thus, scholarship numbers.
We also already know Barta has been proven of wrongdoing in how he handled the firing of former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and the transfer of former associate athletics director Jane Meyer. That ended in a $6.5 million settlement to Griesbaum and Meyer and a seperate $1.45 million award to Meyer. In the Meyer suit, Barta and the Iowa Athletic Department were found to have discriminated against her. I’ve said my piece on this particular incident.
On a purely competitive level, the decision to fire Griesbaum continues to prove questionable. Griesbaum, during her 14 years, had 12 winning seasons and made the NCAA tournament six times. In four years, Griesbaum’s replacement — Lisa Cellucci — has had two winning seasons, never has finished above .500 in the Big Ten and has no NCAA tournament appearances.
Despite this, Cellucci received a contract extension before this season, keeping her in Iowa City through 2022.
These are constant episodes where Barta does not do his job and women’s athletics suffer because of it.
It isn’t limited to field hockey. Softball has also been an issue.
A DMR article mentioned the circumstances surrounding the retirement of former softball coach Gayle Blevins. Multiple people, per university emails the Register obtained, suggested she may have been forced out.
Blevins never had a losing season in 23 years at Iowa. Her final record was 948-422-2, with 16 NCAA tournament appearances, five regular season Big Ten champion teams and four trips to the College World Series.
Under Marla Looper, the coach who replaced Blevins (and was signed to a contract extension in 2014) the softball team has a 151-215 record and just two winning seasons in six years. Looper’s contract expires after this season.
As a point of reference, the baseball team has received numerous upgrades to its field, as well as a good coach that has led to them becoming a force in the Big Ten. The softball team has not had these advantages.
Barta let women’s programs fall into a tailspin they may never recover from. After wrestling, softball and field hockey are Iowa’s two most historically successful programs. It’s Barta’s fault he’s let them decay into a rotten mess.
He has not handled coaching changes well in women’s athletics. He has not afforded female athletes the same rights that male athletes have. He has not given facility upgrades to women’s athletics in the same way men’s athletics have received them.
This is a pattern of documented, discriminatory conduct toward women at Iowa by Gary Barta. All of these charges, issues, lawsuits, and investigations have boiled down to this: The Iowa athletic department needs a change at its highest level.