Regardless of the outcome of ongoing legal issues, the University of Iowa is committed to a full reinstatement of its women’s swimming and diving program and is open to the possibility of adding another women’s sport, wrestling.
Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta emphasized those points Tuesday during a video conference, saying despite ongoing financial issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic the university is committed to continuing the women’s swimming program it announced last August it was cutting.
Barta delivered that message in person Monday to Iowa coaches and student-athletes in the sport, seeking to end uncertainty over its future at a time when ongoing legal issues could cloud the matter for an extended period of time.
He viewed the meeting as a starting to point to rebuilding trust between athletics and university administrators and members of the program.
That comes as a Title IX complaint filed against the university in September by several current members of the women’s swimming program continues and a court order in December mandates the continuation of the program until legal matters are resolved.
“To eliminate the uncertainty, I made the decision. We will fully reinstate the program as a full member of the athletics department,’’ Barta said. “There is no looking back. Regardless of what happens in the legal process, women’s swimming will remain at Iowa.’’
That comes with a cost of around $1.5 million per year, dollars that will be found despite an expected budget deficit for the current fiscal year in the neighborhood of $50-60 million.
That figure is reduced from an initial estimate that Iowa’s self-supported department of athletics would have a budget shortfall of approximately $75 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Those losses follow Iowa trimming around $25 million from its budget through salary reductions, eliminating positions and cuts in the operating budgets of the 24 intercollegiate athletics programs Iowa offers.
Revenue generated from a shortened football season played without fans in the stands, largely income from television rights, has trimmed some of the expected losses.
But, the inability to host fans at football, basketball and wrestling events during the current school year and reduced media rights fees continues to have an impact.
“The $50-60 million deficit is still there,’’ Barta said, estimating it will take Iowa around a decade to repay loans it is working to secure to cover this year’s losses.
Because of that, Barta said the decision to cut men’s gymnastics, men’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis programs at the end of the current school year remains intact.
A group of supporters of all four programs has raised nearly $3 million and pledged an additional $3 million to help maintain those programs while working with the university to find a long-term funding solution to continue the sports.
Barta said while beneficial in the short term, the absence of a long-term answer makes reinstating the three men’s programs impractical.
Last August, Barta estimated that eliminating the four sports would save Iowa a little over $5 million annually.
Iowa previously announced it would honor scholarships and provide academic, medical and mental health support to members of those programs if they chose to remain at Iowa and complete their education.
“We’re doing that because it’s the right thing to do,’’ Barta said.
In response to a question, Barta said if finances work Iowa is open to adding women’s wrestling to its athletics offerings – a suggestion made by those who filed the Title IX complaint who assert Iowa does not meet federal requirements in its scholarship offerings.
“We have looked into women’s wrestling for obvious reasons, the history and tradition on the men’s side and then last July, the NCAA recognizing women’s wrestling as an emerging sport,’’ Barta said.
With facilities in place and new facilities in the planning stages, Barta recalled that an earlier study put estimated start-up and annual costs for the sport at somewhere between $750,000 and $1.5 million.