Title IX settlement a catalyst in launching Iowa women’s wrestling, Barta says

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said an agreement in the Title IX settlement with four Hawkeye women’s swimmers is to add a new women’s sport.


Jenna Galligan

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta speaks at a press conference on Monday, June 15 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Barta addressed recent action within the Iowa Athletic Department, including the separation agreement with Chris Doyle, as well as plans for the future.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

Iowa Athletics announced Thursday morning that the UI will sponsor women’s wrestling starting in the 2023-24 academic year, following a Title IX lawsuit settlement with four women’s swimmers.

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta and men’s wrestling head coach Tom Brands held a press conference Thursday morning to announce the addition of the sport. Iowa is the first Power Five institution in the nation to sponsor women’s wrestling.

At the conference, Barta said a number of factors led to the decision. There has been a rise in women’s wrestling both in Iowa and across the country, Barta said. COVID-19’s impact, along with a Title IX lawsuit settlement from four women’s swimmers, also contributed to the addition of women’s wrestling.

The Title IX lawsuit settlement, brought on by Sage Ohlensehlen, Kelsey Drake, Christina Kaufman, and Alexa Puccini, included an agreement that the UI would add another women’s sport.

The lawsuit was filed after Iowa Athletics initially cut four sports in August 2020, including men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, and men’s gymnastics.

Iowa permanently reinstated women’s swimming and diving in February 2020. But the men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, and men’s gymnastics programs all stalled at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

“As part of the Title IX lawsuit settlement, we agreed to add a women’s sport,” Barta said. “Our decision was to add the sport of women’s wrestling. Again, at the University of Iowa, we believe that sport makes the most sense in terms of adding.”

Barta added that COVID-19 was an indirect reason for the addition of the women’s wrestling program. The pandemic led to the athletic department cutting four sports, Barta said, which brought on the Title IX lawsuit and subsequent settlement.

“I’ll just tell you, this is the bottom line, were it not for COVID we wouldn’t have cut sports,” Barta said. “Were it not for the Title IX lawsuit, I wasn’t ready to add women’s wrestling yet. But I can tell you that why the timing may be challenging, the decision is awesome. We’re excited about it. We’re ready to go forward.”

Hawkeye Athletics will offer 10 scholarships for the inaugural women’s wrestling team. The scholarships can be divided throughout a roster expected to reach 30-35 athletes.

Barta said adding women’s wrestling had been on his radar for a couple years before Thursday’s decision. Currently, 32 states have sanctioned girls wrestling at the high school level.

Although Iowa is not among the states with a sanctioned girls wrestling program, the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association sponsors a state tournament each year. Last season, over 600 girls participated in the tournament.

Barta also said he was getting encouragement from Brands over the years to add women’s wrestling

“Before COVID, we had been watching the explosive growth of girls and women’s wrestling,” Barta said. “We had been keeping an eye on it. Frankly, Tom was in my ear three, four, five years ago saying, ‘C’mon, boss, let’s go. Let’s get women’s wrestling added.’ We were not ready to do that yet, but we were watching it.”

The search for a head coach will start immediately, Barta said. Brands and Senior Women’s Administrator and Deputy Director of Athletics Barbara Burke will assist in the hiring of the head coach.

Barta is hoping to get women’s wrestling student-athletes on campus in the 2022-23 academic year in preparation for its inaugural season in 2023-24.

Brands said that he is excited for women’s wrestling to come to campus. He believes that seeing collegiate women’s wrestling at a Power Five school will inspire the next generation. 

“Women’s wrestling is awesome. It’s great for the women,” Brands said.  “There is little girls all across the country and the planet that are going to see this. It’s that impactful.”