Six months ago, Gary Barta's days at the University of Iowa looked numbered. The athletic department was under unprecedented scrutiny on and off the field. Four former players and a former staffer had sued for gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and commentators from ESPN and elsewhere (including here) were asking if Iowa was genuinely discriminating against female athletes and coaches. Football ticket sales had plummeted following a disappointing seven-win season, and Barta's decision to retain Kirk Ferentz was, at best, highly disputed. Ferentz's contract, handed to the longtime coach by Barta in 2010, remained a national joke. And Iowa was preparing to name a new university president mandated by the Board of Regents -- particularly one regent who had been publicly critical of Barta's performance -- with making athletics a profit center. Barta's current contract was set to expire in June 2016, and it was in serious question whether he would last anywhere near that long. It had gotten so bad that Iowa was sending boosters a 'poll' designed to turn attention toward its graduation rates.
What has happened to Barta in the six months since is nothing short of remarkable. A record-setting football season that came out of nowhere to everyone not named Ferentz, an equally unforeseen basketball campaign that has Iowa in the pole position for its first Big Ten regular season title in more than 30 years, and the metric ton of goodwill engendered by both led President Bruce Harreld to extend Barta's contract in January. If things go as planned, Barta will remain Iowa's athletic director through 2021. Barta will receive $800,000 per year in total compensation per year through 2018, and $900,000 per year for the final three.
Obviously, Barta is riding high across nearly every front. Iowa's biggest three sports -- football, men's basketball and wrestling -- are 47-8 in this academic year. The football team making a run to a Big Ten division title and the first Rose Bowl appearance in 25 years. The basketball team is a lock for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the first time the Hawkeyes have managed that feat since 1991-92, and its poll standing is the highest since the late 1980s. Wrestling is undefeated again and in line for a potential national title. Baseball is surging under Rick Heller, women's basketball is one year removed from a Sweet Sixteen run, and Iowa is showing improvement in a host of other sports. While it is true that Barta did not hire Kirk Ferentz or Tom Brands, he has shown patience with them (especially Ferentz) that few others would have and been rewarded handsomely. And while his first basketball hire was a disaster, Fran McCaffery has managed to keep the program on a six-year upward trajectory. And while Barta has been hit with his fair share of scandal, the last 18 months has been fairly quiet.
There remains one issue that has not faded: The Title IX investigation stemming from the firing of Tracey Griesbaum. It's no coincidence that Barta's contract extension was announced just days after the scope of the federal government's Title IX investigation broadened. Tellingly, Iowa did not modify the terms for termination from Barta's original contract. That contract allowed for termination "for cause" (in other words, without a buyout) in the event of NCAA or Big Ten rules violations resulting in probation or further reprimand, violations of Board of Regents rules and regulations involving honesty or moral turpitude, or "other personal conduct that impairs the Director's ability to perform or reflects adversely on the Director's fitness to serve in that position." While it is true that a Title IX finding adverse to the University could lead to NCAA or Big Ten discipline, an adverse finding alone would not trigger termination for cause. It would be a stretch at best for a Title IX finding against Iowa to fall within any of the other clauses, as well. Simply put, if Iowa decided to fire Gary Barta upon the occurrence of a negative Title IX decision, it will likely pay a buyout.
That buyout isn't exactly Ferentzian, however. Iowa would be obligated to pay two years of base salary and the remainder of Barta's deferred compensation plan. If Barta were fired at the end of the 2017-18 academic year (let's be honest, it won't happen before then absent something unforeseen), he would be owed $2.1 million, and would decrease from there. It a drop in the bucket for an athletics program bringing in $106 million per year and rising.
Barta is now officially contracted for 18 months past Kirk Ferentz, which puts him in position to negotiate whatever extension is coming Ferentz's way (it's almost unthinkable, but the Ferentz contract is less than four years from expiration). In most programs, a head football coach needs five years left on his contract to assuage the fears of recruits, but Ferentz's position is solid enough that such fears shouldn't exist. But whether there's an extension at all, or whether it's the standard one-year rolling extensions now prevalent in college football coaching contracts, it becomes Barta's first major order of business.