University of Iowa, women’s swimmers reach settlement in Title IX lawsuit

After the UI cut the swimming and diving programs last August, four women’s swimmers filed a Title IX lawsuit in September 2020.


Ryan Adams

Swimmers compete in the 200 backstoke during a swim meet at the CRWC on January 11, 2020 between Iowa, Illinois, and Notre Dame. The Hawkeye men’s team defeated the fighting Irish 159.50 to 140.50 while the Hawkeye women’s team defeated the fighting Illini 223 to 86 and lost to the fighting Irish 99.50 to 209.50.

Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor

The University of Iowa will pay almost $400,000 in a settlement reached with four women’s swimmers who filed a Title IX lawsuit last September.

The UI, its former president Bruce Harreld, and its athletic director Gary Barta reached a settlement with the swimmers in September.

The amount includes around $307,000 in attorneys’ fees and $92,000 in other litigation costs. 

Former Hawkeye women’s swimmers Sage Ohlensehlen, Kelsey Drake, Christina Kaufman, and Alexa Puccini brought the Title IX lawsuit against the UI after it cut its NCAA Division I women’s swimming and diving program on Aug. 21, 2020.

The athletes alleged that the UI was Title IX non-compliant because the number of athletic opportunities available to women were not representative of the school’s student population.

The lawsuit found that women made up 53.56 percent of the student body, but only received 50.77 percent of the athletic opportunities in the 2018-19 academic year. 

As part of the settlement, Iowa Athletics agreed to both reinstate women’s swimming and add women’s wrestling.

The athletics department will need to retain women’s swimming for “no less than seven years,” the settlement said. 

Three other sports were originally cut alongside women’s swimming and diving: men’s swim and dive, gymnastics, and tennis. Those sports were discontinued at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

Barta and men’s wrestling head coach Tom Brands held a press conference Sept. 23 to announce the addition of women’s wrestling.

At the press conference, Barta said the UI had been planning to add women’s wrestling for multiple years, but the Title IX settlement was a catalyst to sponsor the sport at a varsity level.

“Recruiting for the women’s wrestling team will begin during the 2021-22 academic year,” the settlement states. “As is typical for beginning a new NCAA sport, the first recruiting student-athletes will begin arriving on campus in 2022-23, and competition is expected to begin in 2023-24 once recruiting has occurred.”

The settlement also stated that Iowa has to make “reasonable efforts” to promote women’s wrestling and persuade other Division I, Power Five schools to add the sport for a competitive schedule.

The UI also agreed to enforce a cap on the women’s rowing team.

In the original lawsuit, Iowa’s rowing program was accused of stashing female athletes on its roster in an effort to help Iowa Athletics comply with Title IX. Hawkeye rowing had 89 student-athletes on its roster in 2014, while the NCAA Division I average was 64.

Iowa Athletics will maintain a three-year rolling average of 75 female athletes on the women’s rowing team as part of the settlement agreement.

Finally, Tulane University Sport Law Professor Gabriel Feldman will monitor the UI’s Title IX compliance from the 2021-22 to the 2023-24 academic year. 

As part of the settlement, Feldman will annually review the UI’s Title IX compliance in athletics in all three aspects: equal participation opportunities, equal benefits and treatment, and equal scholarship opportunities.

The settlement states that Feldman will release an annual report on the three aspects and provide input on any Title IX failings. The Iowa Athletics department will make the annual report public, and publish the findings to no later than Oct. 1 of each year. 

Feldman’s first report will be published Oct. 1, 2022.