The last month has certainly been challenging for all that are connected to Iowa swim and dive. UI Athletics Director Gary Barta and President Bruce Harreld announced on Aug. 21 that four sports programs would be discontinued at the end of the 2020-21 academic year to help make up for financial losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hawkeye men’s and women’s swim and dive, men’s tennis, and men’s gymnastics all got axed by Iowa’s administration.
Since then, alumni, parents of student-athletes, and former coaches have spearheaded efforts to bring back the four discontinued sports. Those associated with Iowa swim and dive had made a particularly strong push, holding daily and weekly meetings to strategize new ways to revive the program.
So far, those efforts have not initiated a reconsideration of Iowa’s decision to cut the four sports.
Barta and Harreld cited a loss of football revenue as a factor in the cuts the department announced on Aug. 21.
Big Ten football has since returned, as the conference announced it would return to play by Oct. 24. Despite football’s comeback, Barta said the four sports in jeopardy would not be reinstated.
“I spoke with our staff [Wednesday],” Barta said in a Thursday video conference. “The position eliminations, the furloughs, the salary reductions, including the four sports no longer continuing at Iowa, are all still in place. Those decisions won’t change, because the financial crisis is certainly still in play. And the [losses] are still going to be very significant.
“We are going to have more revenue at the end because having these games televised will bring more revenue,” Barta said. “But it will be a much-reduced amount, because we’re not playing a full schedule. With no fans, we don’t have ticket revenue. We don’t have the donations that go with the seats. And we’re going to have much-reduced revenue in all other categories.”
A former Hawkeye football player and parent of current swimmer Ryan Purdy, Matt Purdy weighed in on Iowa’s decision to uphold the discontinuation of the four sports.
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“It’s disrespectful if the president and the athletic director don’t come out in the next few days and reinstate these sports knowing that there’s going to be revenue coming in from ESPN and the Big Ten [Network],” Purdy said.
The former Hawkeye football captain went on to note that he knows the football program is not to blame for the budget cuts.
Purdy also detailed an email exchange between himself and President Harreld.
The email exchange was obtained by The Daily Iowan.
Harreld wrote in the Sept. 15 exchange, “Thank you for your passion and meaningful support. However, we are in the midst of a financial crisis in Hawkeye Athletics that requires closure of these sports to cover the interest and principal on significant loans.”
In a second email, Harreld asked Purdy to understand that other universities have taken similar steps to save money by cutting sports. Harreld also noted that UI Athletics has been transparent throughout the process, citing a Frequently Asked Questions document that was released immediately following the discontinuation of the four sports.
Father of Iowa swimmer Christina Kaufman, former Hawkeye athletic trainer, and current Iowa Center for Advancement board member Mark Kaufman believes Iowa’s decision to cut four sports contradicts its purpose for being.
“You’re an athletic department,” Kaufman said. “An athletic department exists because there’s athletic teams and coaches and athletes to support. That’s the big question I keep asking myself. Your first big move as the brain trust of our administration to solve this problem in the athletic department is to cut teams?”
Kaufman and others have also attempted to be heard by the state Board of Regents to appeal Iowa’s decision. Their request was denied ahead of the regents’ upcoming meeting on Sept. 23.
Now, Iowa swim and dive’s parent and alumni bases are developing new fundraising models aimed at reviving the four discontinued sports. Barta and Harreld have already stated that no outside funding for the cut sports would be accepted.
Former Iowa diving coach Rob Rydze said he’s seen this scenario play out before during his time at the University of Maryland.
“That’s what happened to me at Maryland,” the former Terrapin student-athlete said. “It was about 15 years after I left there. All of the sudden, they dropped the sport at Maryland. We tried to get it back. I was on a committee, and we got lied to constantly. We raised the money [to save the program]. [The administration] said, ‘well, we can’t right now.’
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone. I hate to say that, but every swimming program I know that’s been dropped has never been reinstated at the schools.”