Local high school coaches reflect on losing UI’s swimming and diving program

After the 2020-21 season, there will be no Division I men’s swimming and diving programs in the state of Iowa.


Megan Nagorzanski

Swimmers compete during the second session of the the 2020 Big Ten Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship at the the HTRC on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Reporter

The loss of the Iowa men’s swimming and diving program marks the end of all such Division I programs in the state.

Iowa State discontinued its men’s program in 2001 due to budget constraints, and the University of Northern Iowa cut its men’s and women’s programs in 2002 for the same reason. This left the Hawkeyes as the only Division I men’s swim team in Iowa’s borders for nearly two decades.

However, due to a Title IX lawsuit, the women’s swimming and diving program at UNI was reinstated and is still competing today in the Missouri Valley Conference. Iowa State still fields a women’s swimming and diving team in the Big 12 as well.

Iowa head coach Marc Long grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He swam for University of Northern Iowa in 1986 before transferring to the UI in 1987. At Iowa, Long was a three-time Big Ten champion and voted team captain in 1989, leading the team to a Big Ten runner-up finish.

Long started coaching the men’s and women’s swim and dive teams in the 2005 season.

In the wake of the program being cut, Long reflected on his experiences when all three schools still had a men’s swim team.

“I’m an Iowa high school kid myself, and when I graduated, Iowa State, UNI, and Iowa had solid programs,” he said. “And high school swimming in Iowa… There are a lot of great students. It’s sad that these talented, smart individuals will not have a place in the state of Iowa to go.”

Linn-Mar Community Schools boys and girls swimming head coach Tom Belin said that he understood that there are costs involved in running the program and hard decisions needed to be made. However, he doesn’t like how the athletic department went about releasing the news.

The Save Iowa Sports fundraiser received $1.65 million in donations in under 24 hours. Belin thinks that the number alone should make the university reopen talks with the group.

“They seem to be fighting so hard against the group of parents and people that are trying to keep the program going,” Belin said. “If I had one beef, I would’ve liked to have seen the university reach out to this group more openly and say ‘okay, what can we do, how realistic is this?’ And at least from my viewpoint, I don’t see that. It just seems like they’ve just put their foot down and are saying ‘no, we’re not going to do anything to help.’”

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Byron Butler, head coach of the boys and girls swim and dive teams at Iowa City West, swam for the Hawkeyes under Long from 2009-2012.

He said that his first reaction to hearing the news was numbness. After the news settled in, it transitioned to sadness.

Most, if not all, of what Butler learned about collegiate swimming came from his experiences at Iowa. He said that something boys’ swimmers are going to miss out on after the program is cut is the knowledge that he and many swim coaches around the state have about Iowa’s program.

“People don’t realize how much of the knowledge in Iowa, at the coaching level, that trickles down into those athletes,” Butler said. “Coaches all over the state either swam for the University of Iowa or came to the state because of the program.”

Right now, Butler said he isn’t worried about the popularity of boys swimming in the state. He said that despite the cuts, he thinks that swimming is a growing sport in Iowa.

Belin, however, is concerned about the trickle-down effect that Iowa cutting its program could have on his swimmers.

“I think, like anything, people like validation,” Belin said. “And the fact that you had a premier program in Iowa, that local kids could go to and aspire to — not having that available to them, yeah — it is going to have a negative effect on the ability of our sport to attract the better athletes.”

Belin is also worried about maintenance of the CRWC competition pool in the future. Along with Iowa swimming and diving practices and meets, the pool is used for Iowa high school state meets and is the home of the IFLY swimming club.

Belin said that his swimmers look forward to swimming at the CRWC pool during state meets every year.

“What I’m actually also fearful of is the university’s commitment to maintaining that aquatic center. We have one of the premier facilities in the nation — we’ve hosted NCAA’s and Big Ten’s,” he said. “Does the university continue to maintain it when the scoreboard goes out, when the timing systems fail, when the starting equipment fails. I’d hope that they’d continue to fund it because Iowa, outside of the university, benefits from having that facility maintained and usable by the greater Iowa community.”