Iowa men’s tennis team frustrated, still looking for answers after program cuts

Hawkeye men’s tennis athletes are not satisfied with the explanation they were given in response to the university’s announcement that their program was one of four sports to be discontinued at the end of the academic year.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Kareem Allaf hits a backhand during a men’s tennis match between Iowa and Western Michigan at the HTRC on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Broncos, 4-3.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

On the afternoon of March 8, the future of the Iowa men’s tennis team could not have looked any brighter. The team had beaten 16th-ranked Ivy League powerhouse Cornell in a thrilling 4-3 match at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center. The team’s fifth straight victory moved the Hawkeyes to 12-2 on the season and they were ranked 20th nationally, the highest of any men’s tennis team in school history.

What a difference a few months makes.

Four days later, on March 12, after the NCAA announced it had canceled all postseason events for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, and the Big Ten canceled the remainder of its 2020 winter and spring sporting events.

The announcement brought the season to a screeching halt just as the team was playing its best tennis of the spring. Head coach Ross Wilson listed the lost opportunities.

“How could you not think that, ‘Hey, we could win the Big Ten Championship. We could advance in the NCAAs. We could have an All-American in singles. We could have an All-American doubles team,” he said.

If last season had gone on as normal and Iowa had got into the field for the NCAA tournament, it would’ve been the first time in program history, after years of building a culture fit to accomplish that feat.

After the Big Ten’s announcement of the cancellation of the remainder of its 2020 winter and spring athletic seasons, Iowa athletes, coaches, and fans alike didn’t believe it could get worse.

But on Aug. 21, it did.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Athletic Director Gary Barta announced that the men’s tennis team — along with the men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs — will be discontinued following the 2020-21 academic year because of financial shortfalls caused by COVID-19.

RELATED: Head coach Marc Long leading Iowa swimming and diving through program cuts

Following the Big Ten’s postponement of fall sports, Barta said the department was anticipating $100 million in lost revenue and a $60 million to $75 million deficit.

Athletes and coaches from the four teams were called to a meeting in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Barta broke the news to them, accompanied by a short explanation.

“The only explanation was financially,” said Will Davies, who won a team-best 13 singles matches in the spring. “They need to pay off a $75 million loan, which is fine, I completely understand that, but you’re discontinuing four sports [that the university will, according to Barta, save $5 million annually from.]

The player went on say he thinks the UI should have room in the budget for the team.

“That isn’t a lot for the budget that we have here at Iowa,” he said. “We’re a top school in the nation. I don’t think it should’ve been Iowa leading the way to make cuts.”

In the open letter from Barta and Harreld released on Aug. 21 announcing the discontinuation of the four sports, they said Title IX compliance — where scholarships must be equally distributed between men’s and women’s sports — was also a cited as a consideration.

Davies cited a lack of transparency from Barta and the athletic department as another reason for his frustration.

“We still haven’t had specific answers,” he said. “A couple of guys have reached out to Gary personally, asking for more of a detailed response and all he keeps banging on about is the finances. That’s fine but he keeps avoiding our personal questions. Until we get an actual detailed response about why it was actually us that was cut, I’m sure all of the guys’ feelings will remain the same.”

Kareem Allaf, who sits at No. 2 all-time in Iowa history in combined singles and doubles victories with 146,  said he attempted to reach out to Barta with questions about the recent donations made to the program and where that money was going.

“I’m still asking questions about where our donations went,” Allaf said. “[Barta] hasn’t been fully honest in my opinion. I reached out to him via email and kept getting the same answers. He’s not very open about anything. He told me I don’t have all the facts and he wishes me all the best in the future. I tried contacting his office — no response. They said they’d call me later or he would give me a call later. He never responded.”

Allaf summarized the feeling of many affected by the cuts.

“There’s a lot of explaining to do,” he said.

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