top of page

A Legacy of Controversy: Iowa Athletic Director Retires After 17 Years

A Legacy of Controversy: Iowa Athletic Director Retires After 17 Years

On August 1, 2023, Gary Barta’s 17-year tenure as the University of Iowa’s athletic director will come to an end. He announced his retirement early last week. Barta has been an important figure in the university's history, overseeing significant developments in its athletic programs over the years.

In his statement, Barta cited his reasons for retiring as being personal, stating that after much thought and consideration, he knows that this is the right decision for him and his family. He did not elaborate on the specifics of his decision, but it is clear that this news marks the end of an era for the University of Iowa.

Hired in 2006 after his athletic director position at Wyoming, Barta’s long career at the University of Iowa

created a plethora of winning opportunities for the University’s athletics. His years at Iowa saw four NCAA team titles, about 500 All American athletes, 27 Conference titles, a multitude of National player of the year winners, upgrades to athletics facilities, and more.

Despite the prestigious achievements Barta’s tenure brought to Iowa, his retirement comes as no surprise to most Iowa fans. In the past nine years, Barta’s been involved in four different discrimination lawsuits, racking upwards of $11 million in settlements. These suits alleged gender and race-based discrimination within the athletic department.

Former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate Athletic Director Jane Meyer’s suit led to a $6.5 million payout, while the former football player’s racial discrimination suit ended in a $4.2 million settlement. After the latter, state auditor Rob Sand began to call for the departure of Barta.

In August 2020, Barta announced that Iowa would be cutting four sports from their athletic roster. Men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, swimming, and diving. An open letter from Barta and Bruce Harreld, the University President at the time, laid out the situation as they saw it. “With the Big Ten Conference’s postponement of fall competition on August 11, UI Athletics now projects lost revenue of approximately $100M and an overall deficit between $60-75M this fiscal year. A loss of this magnitude will take years to overcome. We have a plan to recover, but the journey will be challenging.”

“A loss of this magnitude” had more of an effect on the athletes whose lives changed at a moment’s notice.

Each team would be allowed their final season if the pandemic allowed, Barta explained.

“When the program was initially cut, it was a very tough blow,” said 2019 men’s gymnastics team manager Cole Janz. He came to the Iowa program with a dream of being part of the NCAA team one day. When the program was ripped away, his dream went along with it.

The 2020 men’s gymnastics season was drastically different from previous seasons. Meets at Carver Hawkeye Arena consisted of fewer fans, limited personnel on the competition floor, and mostly Midwest-based teams as competitors. Despite the devastation of the program’s loss, the team’s light did not dim. They concluded their final season with a 4-2 record and a third place win at the Big Ten Championship, the highest the program had performed since 2006.

“While there was a lot of pain when the NCAA program got cut, I feel like we were able to open a new door that can provide a different opportunity to other young gymnasts to look up to,” said Janz.

After the team’s last NCAA competition, several members of the team began to form a GymACT (gymnastics association of college teams) program to replace what they lost. Janz said this gave him the opportunity to accomplish more within gymnastics than he would have been able to in the NCAA program.

In 2022, he achieved All American honors on floor at Nationals. That year, the Iowa GymACT team was crowned national champions. During the 2023 GymACT season, the team hosted their first home competition. Janz competed All Around for the first time in four years as a team captain. It’s safe to say that the team’s GymACT success was because of the athletes themselves, not the Iowa athletic department.

When asked about what he hopes for the new athletic director, Janz relayed his hope for someone who’s reliable. Barta, he explained, was not. His actions left his promises to support the program empty after selling some of their equipment over a summer, and keeping them out of school training facilities.

Janz remained dedicated and loyal to his team and teammates, while the University they loved was not. He hopes that for the future of athletes like him and his teammates, the new athletic director will allow the program to continue to operate out of the respect the program deserves for its storied history and all they’ve been able to create through the adversity they were dealt.

The final straw of Barta’s career was not because of these losses, but more than likely the result of state auditor Sand’s refusal to pay the $2 million settlement with taxpayer dollars unless he left his position at the school. Barta’s long career at the University of Iowa created many new opportunities and honors for the school. However, his missteps in recent years seem to overshadow a lot of the good.

While Barta’s departure marks the end of an era, the future of Iowa athletics has the opportunity to flourish with this change in Athletic Directors.

**Photos courtesy of the author

**Opinions of the author do not reflect/effect this publication

25 views0 comments


bottom of page