Judge denies Iowa women’s swimmers restraining order request

Four University of Iowa women’s swimmers motioned for the restraining order Dec. 3.


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

U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose denied four University of Iowa women’s swimmers’ request for a temporary restraining order Dec. 4. Sage Ohlensehlen, Alexa Puccini, Christina Kaufman, and Kelsey Drake motioned for the temporary restraining order Dec. 3.

The restraining order request demanded that the University of Iowa “take no steps to dismantle the existing women’s swimming and diving team until a hearing can be held and the Plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction can be adjudicated.”

Rose wrote in a Dec. 4 court order that, “Because plaintiffs have not established the threat of irreparable injury ‘of such imminence that there is clear and present need for equitable relief to prevent irreparable harm,’ . . . They have not established a need for such emergency relief.”

Additionally, Rose wrote that the plaintiffs’ dilemma is time-sensitive, and set a hearing for Dec. 18.

The four swimmers have been pursuing legal action against the University of Iowa, President Bruce Harreld, and Athletics Director Gary Barta in the wake of their Aug. 21 decision to eliminate men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s gymnastics, and men’s tennis.

At the time, Barta said the athletics department was facing a $75 million deficit because of COVID-19, which, in large part, was made up of lost football revenue. Barta said the cuts will save the department about $5 million annually.

Even with Big Ten football’s return this fall, Barta has remained adamant that the discontinuation of the four sports programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year is final. At a September Board of Regents meeting, Barta said the athletic department was still facing a $40-50 million deficit, despite football’s return.

The plaintiffs’ original Title IX complaint was filed Sept. 25 on the grounds 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. . .”

The complaint was amended Sept. 25 to add Abby Lyman and Miranda Vermeer’s names to the list of plaintiffs.

Lyman is a freshman at the University of Iowa. She wrestled in high school, but has not found any opportunities to continue her career at the UI thus far. She characterized the UI’s lack of support for women’s wrestling as being “unusual and disappointing” as the Hawkeye wrestling program is internationally prominent and could easily support a women’s wrestling team because the sport is so popular at the high school level in the state of Iowa.

Vermeer is a senior at the UI and president of the women’s rugby club. Vermeer claims that the UI offers the club “minimal” support, and that there are enough nearby universities with teams to support a full schedule should the UI ever establish a competitive women’s rugby team.

The most updated version of the complaint, which includes the restraining order request, notes that 15 of the 35 women’s swimmers and divers on Iowa’s roster entered the NCAA transfer portal in direct response the UI’s decision to discontinue women’s swimming and diving.

The student-athletes’ decisions to transfer are part of what the plaintiffs believe make their complaint time-sensitive.

The latest iteration of the complaint also describes the impact the UI’s decision to discontinue women’s swimming and diving has on high school athletics.

“Recruiting qualified women-athletes to participate in future UI women’s swimming and diving teams has crashed to a halt. With the program’s announced termination, incoming students who were set to swim at the UI have changed plans and will not attend the UI after all.”

According to the plaintiffs, the UI would suffer “minimal harm” under the restraining order. The swimmers also noted that preliminary attempts to resolve the issue with the UI “have been unavailing.”

Advocates and other members of the Save Iowa Sports group have proposed that Olympic sports be removed from the UI Athletics Department’s umbrella, and function as a self-sufficient and independently supported entity.

To date, the Save Iowa Sports group has accumulated $2.85 million across 702 pledges. The pledge campaign was launched Sept. 21, and in under 24 hours, $1.65 million worth of pledges had been made.

The NCAA and Big Ten have yet to officially announce when or if their men’s and women’s swimming and diving seasons will begin.

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