Gary Barta Updates How COVID-19 is Impacting Iowa Athletics

April 9, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – After the initial shock of watching sports shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa athletics moved into crisis mode. It was termed “shared sacrifice.”

Like most business around the country, the department absorbed a financial hit when the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament was canceled. That created a hiring freeze, but Iowa emerged, to this point at least, in better shape than many of its counterparts. Iowa State already has cut athletic department salaries.

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said during a video conference call with media Thursday afternoon that his department would be able to cover lost revenue with its reserve funds through the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. It planned to keep everyone in the department employed through that date, though he admitted that could change depending on the economy.

Barta and his staff are working on models based on different percentages of lost revenue for the next fiscal year. They likely will call for reducing salaries but there will be no reduction in scholarship money, which usually costs about $14M.

He’s uncomfortable issuing any hard numbers on what has been or will be lost from the budget. Iowa expected to bring in abut $1.5M from the NCAA, approximately a third of what it normally collects.

“I think like everybody in America, their personal finances, their business finances, certainly the University of Iowa is expecting revenue to be less next year. So we’ve been modeling, what if it’s 10 percent Less? What if it’s 15 percent? What if it’s 25 percent less? And we’ve begun to put together plans on how we’re going to approach that and how we’re going to manage it,” Barta said.

Iowa has not cut anyone in the athletic department’s pay to date. Barta expected that to change during the next fiscal year with operating budgets also being reduced.

“In any of those models that I just described, one of the larger expenses in our budget is compensation of 250 full-time employees and so I expect there will be reduction. We have to reduce that expenditure. I’m not going to predict by how much yet and I’m not going to predict who. I anticipate most everybody, if not everybody, will be involved,” he said.

Barta touched on several topics during Thursday’s conference. A large portion of time was spent on what everyone hopes is an upcoming football season. He also spoke about how the department is handling the NCAA ruling that allows spring senior athletes an extra year of eligibility and facilities projects.

Football and men’s basketball are the sports earning revenue. The former is scheduled to kick off Sept. 5 with the Hawkeyes playing host to Northern Iowa at historic Kinnick Stadium.

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The Big Ten athletic directors and commissioner Kevin Warren are meeting daily, discussing models and possibilities. Barta also speaks with his football coach, Kirk Ferentz, and the NCAA “regularly.”

Ferentz said in a teleconference last week that he and strength coach Chris Doyle believed that it would take players at least a month of conditioning once back on campus before they could practice contact football. That meant a return to school by July seemed like a reasonable target date for the season starting on time.

Barta threw out July 1 and July 15 as hypothetical dates from which to work. Coaches would have to modify their training schedules from there. The athletic director trusts the experience of Doyle and Ferentz to make it work.

“We have to be agile and flexible to adjust to whatever we end up with when it when it comes time to get back on campus,” Barta said.

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He acknowledged that the Big Ten and NCAA are discussing models for a shortened season and/or one that is pushed back. Barta does not think that being a cold-weather state would eliminate playing games in the winter months.

Wisconsin announced Thursday that despite the NCAA eligibility ruling, it would not be bringing back any seniors from spring sports who lost their seasons.

Iowa is allowing spring sport seniors another year. Barta estimates that 25-35 of them are expressing interest in doing so at this point, which he projected would cost about $500,000.

Barta met with the spring coaches to tell them that while rosters will be expanded to accommodate student-athletes wanting that year back, the spring sports’ budgets would not be increased. They would need to figure out the distribution of scholarship money and perhaps raise more on their own.

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Iowa paid off coaches’ contract performance bonuses that were earned. It has not fulfilled speculative bonuses, such has clauses for NCAA Tournament appearances.

The renovation project at the university’s Finkbine Golf Course has neared completion with the kitchen still needing to be finished. The department was given permission to hire an architect for the wrestling facility project and it’s moving forward in that search.

“Many other smaller projects, and really any other project that wasn’t well in the queue or funded already, has been put on hold as part of our as part of our spending freeze,” Barta said.

Barta was asked about the possibility of playing football games without fans in the stands. He saw it as a possibility but also acknowledged predicting what’s next for our country under a pandemic is a fool’s errand.

“I could see a scenario where there’s still safety because you could test every participant that’s in the building and make sure everybody is not positive. Prior to playing the game that is feasible,” he said.

“It’s not feasible to do it for 70,000 right now, so again, safety and well-being will be our guide. If it’s not safe for those student-athletes and coaches and participants to be out there, they won’t be out there. If it’s safe to have fans, then then we’ll have fans.”

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