There's a whole lot to unpack in Iowa's recent announcement, but let's start with the most important piece: Iowa women's swimming and diving has been reinstated! There are implications and griminess in the way that it all came together, but at the end of the day, an Iowa athletic team slated to be discontinued is no longer on the chopping block. Let's not lose sight of the fact that it's a win, no matter the circumstances.
Those circumstances, though... well, they really are messy.
First, a reminder of how we got here. Iowa's athletic department (via Gary Barta) has stated that they faced an expected $70 million shortfall in revenue due to COVID-19 this year. The modified football season that took place over the fall has lowered that projection to somewhere in the $50-$60 million range, but there was still a massive gap to make up. PR extraordinaire and Iowa AD Gary Barta initially said he would be reluctant to cut sports unless it was a last resort, only to return a week later to announce that four sports would be discontinued after the 2020-2021 season: men's tennis, men's gymnastics, and men's and women's swimming and diving.
The shortsighted decision to cut sports was met with the backlash it deserved. Iowa was not the only school to cut sports due to the pandemic, but was one of the largest schools that did, and cutting swimming and diving when the school was scheduled to host the 2021 NCAA championships was a particularly bad look, to say the least.
In September, four members of the women's swimming and diving team, Sage Ohlensehlen, Kelsey Drake, Christina Kaufman, and Alex Puccini, filed a Title IX complaint against the school. Title IX ensures that male and female students have athletic opportunities proportionate to the makeup of the student body. The complaint alleged that while women made up 53.56% of Iowa's student body in 2018-19, they were afforded only 50.77% of the athletic opportunities.
In late December, a judge granted the student-athletes a preliminary injunction, forcing the University to reinstate the women's swimming and diving program until the case was resolved. Rather than keep the fate of the program in a state of limbo while the proceedings took place, Gary Barta announced on Monday that the program would be reinstated on a permanent basis. Part of the released statement read:
“The University continues to disagree with claims made by the lawsuit, and the subsequent preliminary injunction to continue offering the sport in 2021-22 while the lawsuit makes its way through the court system. In the interest of serving our student-athletes, coaches, and community, the University believes more certainty will be beneficial for the future of the program."
I'm not a lawyer, but I pretty sure that that's just lawyer-speak for "We're about to get our ass kicked in court, so we'll just take the L now before this gets worse." As we know all too well, Iowa athletics under Gary Barta and embarrassing Title IX court cases have become very close friends (see: The Chronicles of Gary Barta).
So, as we said at the top, the end result is the reinstatement of women's swimming and diving. That's undeniably good news! Even so, we're left with that gross feeling in our stomachs. The sport is saved, and yet it doesn't feel like the University wants to celebrate. As a student-athlete, would you feel valued as part of the Iowa swimming and diving team? As a high school student, would Iowa swimming seem like it provides you with the best environment to excel? I can't answer those questions and I'm not sure student-athletes can yet either. I certainly wouldn't hold it against them if they decided Iowa wasn't the best place for them moving forward. The athletic department hasn't exactly welcomed them back with open arms.
It's frustrating, and frankly tiring, to watch the Iowa athletic department stumble from one self-inflicted crisis to the next. At every opportunity to do the right thing, Iowa has seemed to find a way to do the opposite, to the point that even the positive outcomes are tinged with a feeling of negativity. And so, we're left with two takeaways:
The Iowa women's swimming and diving team is saved. I keep coming back to it because it's the real moral of the story here. The circumstances are messy and the future is uncertain, but Iowa is a better university when it provides more opportunities to its students. More athletic teams mean more opportunities. That's good, regardless of how we got there.
- The Iowa Athletic Department continues to be a mess. Men's swimming and diving, men's tennis, and men's gymnastics are still going to be cut after this season, which is a disastrous outcome of the pandemic. Not to mention, the Title IX case is still ongoing and will likely end with even more examples of failure from the athletic department.
There will always be time to call out the athletic department. For now, let's celebrate the good news and recognize the women who successfully stood up for themselves and their teammates to save their sport. That's the story, no matter how much the AD tries to ruin it.