Title IX complaint filed by Iowa women’s swim and dive student-athletes

Four female student-athletes are contesting the University of Iowa’s decision to discontinue women’s swim and dive at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.


Emily Wangen

Swimmers warm up before competition begins during the Thursday preliminary round of competition of the 2020 Women’s Women Big Ten Swim & Dive Championships on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center. Swimmers competed in the 500 Yard Freestyle, the 200 Yard Individual Medley, and the 50 Yard Freestyle.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Christina Kaufman, Sage Ohlensehlen, Alexa Puccini, and Kelsey Drake have filed a Title IX complaint regarding the University of Iowa’s decision to discontinue its women’s swimming and diving program at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

The complaint was submitted Friday morning by attorney Jared C. Larew of Larew Law.

The complaint states that “The University of Iowa’s actions have caused harm to the plaintiffs, and those who are similarly situated, and constitute intentional, prohibited discrimination based on sex in violation of Title IX of the education amendments of 1972. . .”

UI President Bruce Harreld and Athletic Director Gary Barta announced on Aug. 11 that four Hawkeye sports — men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, and men’s gymnastics — would be cut at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. At the time, Barta said the department was facing a $75 million deficit because of COVID-19, which in large part was made up of lost football revenue. Barta said these cuts will save the department $5 million annually.

Now that a Big Ten football season is being played this fall, Barta told the state Board of Regents on Wednesday that the department’s deficit will now be between $40-60 million. The cuts, however, are still final.

RELATED: UI Athletics Department projects $40-60 million deficit despite football’s return, four cut sports remain eliminated

Detailed later in the complaint is the UI’s obligation to provide equal opportunity and treatment in athletics with regard to gender as it receives federal funding.

“[The University of Iowa] has failed to provide student-athletes with athletic opportunities at a rate that is ‘substantially proportionate’ to their undergraduate and full time enrollment rate; and it has failed to show that the interests and abilities of the historically underrepresented sex have been fully and effectively accommodated,” Larew and the plaintiffs wrote.

According the complaint, the plaintiffs are seeking immediate declaratory and injunctive relief via the reinstatement of the women’s swim and dive program at Iowa. The plaintiffs are also seeking additional relief, commanding Iowa to establish more athletic opportunities and programs for women.

The complaint also alleges that Barta has failed to establish more women’s sports programs. Additionally, the UI is accused of not making meaningful advancements to provide equal opportunities to women in athletics.

The complaint argues that women are paid disproportionately in comparison to men. The average men’s head coaching salary is $998,000 and the average women’s salary is $230,000.

The complaint also states that in 2018-19, women made up 53.56 percent of the UI student body, but had only been provided with 50.77 percent of the athletic opportunities.

RELATED: Save Iowa Sports fundraising campaign hits $1.65 million in pledges

The report also accuses Iowa of stashing “benchwarmers” on it’s women’s teams to improve its gender equity statistics. For instance,  in 2014, the women’s rowing team housed 89 student-athletes. The average rowing squad size among NCAA Division I programs was 64 at the time. The Hawkeyes’ team was nearly 40 percent larger than other average programs throughout the NCAA.

“By using such masking and distorting practices, the women’s participation statistics in the Barta Era have been significantly inflated and the substantial failure of the UI to have provided equal athletics opportunities for men and women have been obscured,” Larew and the plaintiffs wrote.

After the cuts are made at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, Iowa’s athletics department will house eight men’s sports and 12 women’s sports.

In a frequently-asked-questions document released in tandem with Barta and Harreld’s statement on the cuts, it is said the Title IX implications of the sports cuts were considered by the UI’s administration.

A group called Save Iowa Sports has started a pledge-based fundraising campaign in an effort to reinstate the cut sports. As of Tuesday, the group said it had raised $1.65 million. Harreld and Barta have said outside fundraising will not be enough to reinstate the programs.

Following the filing of the complaint, the University of Iowa issued the following statement:

“We understand the pain and frustration from our student-athletes but unfortunately the lawyer for the plaintiffs has omitted key facts,” the statement reads. “First, the programs in question are still ongoing at this time so they cannot be ‘reinstated.’ Second, the University of Iowa last recently completed a four-year review of the Office of Civil Rights compliance with Title IX in the Athletic Department. In 2019, the Office for Civil Rights closed its investigation with no findings of any violation in the 13 categories of Title IX. The university remains committed to staying in compliance with Title IX.”

The statement also says that the UI’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts will not be negatively impacted following the sports cuts.

Cutting the four sports will result in the loss of 20.7 men’s scholarships compared to 14 female scholarships.