The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Upon Further Review: Leaky Foundation

My friends with water filters think I’m nuts, but I don’t mind drinking the Iowa City tap water. It looks and tastes exactly the same as the filtered variety. Especially this school year—with the success of football, men’s basketball and wrestling, I bet the folks at the water treatment plant tossed in “Michael Secret Stuff” back in August.

But with Iowa’s Athletic Director Gary Barta, The Hawkeyes are filling up on Kool-Aid.

I was feet from Barta in late December, days before the calendar turned and Iowa got squashed in the Rose Bowl. With a peaceful demeanor and a reserved grin, Barta stood above the elevator at the LA Hotel Downtown, reiterating the strength of the UI Athletic Department.

Barta looks on with Kirk Ferentz in the foreground, speaking at a press conference
On the field, Barta was right to stick with Kirk Ferentz after 2014. (Photo: David Scrivner, Iowa City Press)

“The foundation means the people are terrific, the facilities are terrific, the historical approach is terrific, the student-athletes are terrific,” he said. “The foundation is strong, it’s as strong as it’s ever been.” (Source: Hawk Central)

New UI President Bruce Harreld agrees. Last week, Harreld and Barta put pen to paper on a new contract that will keep Iowa’s AD in town through June, 2021. Barta’s base salary and job security are both ascending.

Yet days before the announced extension, The U.S. Department of Education unveiled an imminent federal probe into Barta’s athletic office, questioning the existence of gender bias in play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. According to the Associated Press, a team of investigators will land in Iowa City in April, surveying the flat landscape and considering counts of gender discrimination in 13 areas.

Gary Barta headshot, smiling
Barta speaking to the media at the LA Hotel Downtown. (photo by: Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central)

The UI Athletic Department is also currently in litigation over the suspicious firing of Tracey Griesbaum, who coached Iowa’s Field Hockey program for 15 years. In January, an independent investigator came forward with findings that “a reasonable person” could see gender discrimination at play in Griesbaum’s firing.

While the wording would make Ted Wells blush, it highlights a glaring crack in Barta’s self-assessed foundation. Yet the choppy waters turned calm once the wins piled up in Iowa’s glamor sports.

In this year’s public relations campaign, the athletic department chose to run with the last line of the fight song: until the game is won. They even launched a satellite website, with each individual and team accomplishment in writing.

Nowhere does it mention that Iowa has 72 rowers on the Women’s Rowing roster, 32 more than the Ohio State Buckeyes, the top team in Iowa’s region from the latest poll last May. Barta is accused of methodically stashing women on the team to keep the school within legal parameters, and free from paying for a new women’s sport.

Chances are very good Barta will have to answer those questions in April. But, it’ll probably only happen behind closed doors.

That’s because out in the open, winning seems to come before everything else.