Student-athletes comment on program cuts, history of sports at Iowa

Student-athletes had a chance to share their thoughts on the history of their respective sports at Iowa at a press conference Monday.


In this triptych, Women’s Swimming, Men’s Gymnastics, and Men’s Tennis are seen during their 2019-2020 season. (Daily Iowan Photo Staff)

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Since University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and President Bruce Harreld announced that men’s tennis, men’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving would all be discontinued at Iowa at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, debate has raged on with regard to the validity of the decision.

In a frequently-asked-questions document released in tandem with Barta and Harreld’s statement on the cuts, the administration provided the criteria it used to determine what sports got the axe.

Current and future facilities opportunities, current and future prospect for success of the sport, historical competitive success, history of the sport at Iowa, and impact on student-athlete experience across all sports, now and in the future, were just a few of the criteria listed as reasoning for the cuts.

Current and future facilities opportunities, or lack thereof, is one of the key touchstones of present debate.

The Olympic swimming facility within UI Campus Recreation and Wellness is still considered to be state-of-the-art — even ten years after its initial construction. The UI invested $5.5 million into the pool’s original construction. The UI allocated another $6 million into it for repairs last summer.

The facility hosted the Big Ten Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships last year, and was set to host the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in March 2021.

The Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center opened in 2006.  Since opening, the center has hosted the 2008 Big Ten Men’s Tennis Championships, the 2010 Big Ten Women’s Tennis Championships, the 2015 Big Ten Men’s Tennis Championships, and the 2018 Big Ten Men’s Tennis Championships.

Many argue that history of the sport at Iowa is another key criterion. In the case of swimming and diving, the history may be richer than that of any sport at Iowa. The program is 103 years old.

RELATED: Four Iowa sports being cut each have history that dates back decades

Former Hawkeye head coach David Armbuster and swimmer Jack Sieg also invented the Butterfly stroke at the Field House on the UI campus in the 1930s.

“Anytime you watch the Olympics and see Michael Phelps doing his signature stroke, that was invented right here at the University of Iowa,” senior swimmer Sage Ohlensehlen said. “. . . A lot of stuff happened at the University of Iowa regarding swimming, and a lot is still happening.

“Iowa has a lot of history about swimming, but we’re trying to make more history about swimming,” Ohlensehlen said. “We’re still working on improving the stroke. When you take this program away, you’re taking away a huge piece of history from swimming as a sport.”

The history of the men’s tennis program is also deeply rooted at Iowa. The first recorded team competition took place in 1898.

“One of the pictures that came out recently was a photo of the Iowa tennis team back in the 1950s, when they were Big Ten champions,” senior Jason Kerst said. “Our outdoor courts are the Don Klotz tennis courts. Don Klotz was the coach back then. So, that photo was just a snapshot of history. Our program is over 100 years old. . . these decisions are opening the door for eroding a history that is so far beyond our university.”

The last highly contested criterion is recent success of the programs. All four teams were solid in 2019-20.

The men’s tennis team finished the season at 20th in the ITA rankings. The swimming and diving teams produced six NCAA qualifiers and broke 12 program records. The men’s gymnastics team finished the season ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Junior Bennet Huang ranked fourth in the nation in all-around.