Iowa men’s gymnastics program officially discontinued

At the conclusion of the NCAA Finals on April 17, Iowa men’s gymnastics officially ended its program.


Katie Goodale/The Daily Iowan

Nebraska all-around Sam Phillips performs his floor routine during the Iowa v. Nebraska men’s gymnastics meet in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, March 20, 2021. Iowa defeated Nebraska with a score of 406.700 – 406.650. Phillips tied for first with Iowa’s Bennet Huang on the floor with a score of 14.300.

Hunter Moeller, Sports Reporter

Iowa men’s gymnastics wrapped up its season last month, but it was more than a regular end to the season. It was the end of the Hawkeyes’ program.

Iowa athletics announced on August 21 that the men’s gymnastics, men’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis programs would be discontinued at the end of the 2020-21 academic year because of financial implications created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women’s swimming and diving was also on the chopping block, but the university reinstated the program on Feb. 17 after four women’s swimmers brought a Title IX lawsuit against the university.

Although it was the last season for Iowa men’s gymnastics, the Hawkeyes didn’t let the looming discontinuation inhibit their performances.

“For a lot of us, this [the 2020-21 season] is a very special memory,” senior Bennet Huang said. “It doesn’t matter how short the season was, or whether it’s the freshmen or seniors like me. This entire season has been super special for us. There have been so many things we’ve went through, like injuries or COVID. For us being able to ride it through is something we will always cherish.”

Iowa began the season on a three-meet win streak,  winning its first three competitions against Minnesota, then-No. 4 Illinois, and then-No. 5 Penn State. The Hawkeyes went on to end the regular season with a 4-2 record.

At the Big Ten Championships on April 3, Iowa capped its final conference tournament with the program’s highest finish since 2006, posting a 397.700 score — good for a third-place finish.

Three gymnasts finished inside the top 10 at the Big Ten Championships. Huang finished fourth with an 81.550, junior Evan Davis finished seventh with an 80.350, and junior Stewart Brown finished eighth with a 79.400.

In Iowa’s final NCAA Championship run, the Hawkeyes didn’t advance past the session two qualification round, effectively ending their team season.

But six Hawkeyes represented Iowa individually in the NCAA Championship Finals on April 17 — Huang, Davis, junior Peyton Hobson, sophomore Amari Sewell, sophomore Carter Tope, and freshman James Freidman.

Davis placed fifth nationally in the all-around competition, finishing his final meet as a Hawkeye with a 81.931 Huang followed Davis at seventh place, notching 81.465 points.

Both Huang and Davis were awarded NCAA All-America honors at the end of the final session.

All season long, Iowa head coach JD Reive told his gymnasts to have no regrets.

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“After that last routine [at the NCAA final], I had one kid come over and say, ‘Sorry we couldn’t send you out on a higher note,’” Reive said. “I said, “Dude, you all went balls to the wall, and that’s what matters.’ We did what we could, and we will look back on this year down the road and say that was a pretty good group of guys.”

The 2020-21 Iowa men’s gymnastics team had the goal to win an NCAA title one last time. Although the Hawkeyes didn’t achieve that goal, Davis said the team always sticks together.

“We’re really trying to reinforce the idea that even though we’re not practicing, we’re still a team, we’re still a family, we’re going to be together,” Davis said. “With all the freshmen and every class, we want them to know we have your back.”

The 1969 Iowa men’s gymnastics team won Iowa Athletics’ first-ever NCAA Championship.

Now in years to come, the 1969 Championship trophy will be the only representation of an NCAA title for the men’s gymnastics program.

Dick Taffe, a former Hawkeye gymnast who was a part of the 1969 NCAA Championship team, said the evolution of men’s gymnastics is coming to a halt in Iowa.

“I personally find it sad that a program which has shown a continual growth in quality of athletic skills and artistic expression over the years, long before and long after our time is being forced to halt that dynamic progression,” Taffe said.  “It’s robbing the possibility of others adding to that continuum. More than a century of shared experiential lineage — a perfectly straight handstand in the 1920s looked and felt the same as one in the 1960s or one in 2021— has been abruptly truncated.

“As an evolving athletic species, Iowa men’s gymnastics is now officially extinct.”