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Schwartz: Like It Or Not, Gary Barta Extended

August 8, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Wednesday morning I, like many in Hawkeye Nation, learned of athletic director Gary Barta’s raise and contract extension.

Then I sighed. Then I took my kid to Dave & Buster’s for a couple of hours and didn’t think about the extension again until dinner time.

There’s nothing left to say about the University of Iowa. Nothing. Remember: this is the university that nearly closed a labor center to save $500,000 while simultaneously compensating the UI president a $1 million payout next year ON TOP OF his half-a-million-dollar salary.

The University of Iowa lives front and center in our post-logic society. Everyone from the UI’s academic administration to the athletic department to the medical establishment seems to make decisions by licking its own finger, sticking it in the air, and seeing which way the wind is blowing at any given moment.

So what should we feel about Barta’s new deal, which increases his pay by 25 percent? Feel what you want. 

Because how one feels about this depends entirely on one’s point of view. On one hand, U of Iowa athletes consistently perform at the top of the Big Ten academically. This isn’t smoke and mirrors: Hawkeye athletes kick all sorts of ass in the classroom, and if that’s not something that matters to you, well, to each their own I guess.

Further, he’s led successful fundraising efforts. Look to the ongoing renovations to Kinnick, Carver-Hawkeye’s recent additions, world-class swim facilities, and the football complex as examples.

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On the other hand, Gary Barta’s athletic department in recent years has been a walking, talking lawsuit. And these aren’t insignificant lawsuits, either. A jury awarded former associate athletic director Jane Meyer seven figures in damages in her discrimination lawsuit against the UI. The UI also agreed via settlement to pay another seven figures to former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum as a result of her lawsuit.

Then there’s the on-field performance of Iowa’s athletic programs. While there has been some success, most notably this past year’s women’s basketball team and in recent years the baseball program, overall the UI has lagged behind the rest of the Big Ten. In fact, since the Big Ten moved to 14 teams at the start of the 2014-15 academic year, Iowa sits in the bottom three in total Big Ten regular season and postseason tournament championships. Only Rutgers has won less, and Purdue’s performance is comparable to Iowa’s. The Hawkeyes’ record is just as poor going back to when Nebraska joined the conference.

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So let’s summarize:

Barta deserves the raise and extension: He and his staff demonstrate fiscal responsibility, and UI athletes’ world-class academic performance puts 90 percent of college programs to shame.

Barta doesn’t deserve the raise and extension: Under his stewardship of the athletic department, the university lost a highly publicized and shameful discrimination lawsuit. And Hawkeye athletics as a whole has been among the least successful programs in the Big Ten for a solid decade – if you count championships as a measurement for success.

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What’s done is done. Iowa signed Barta through the 2023-24 school year. What kind of job will he do between now and then? Which coaches will he hire? Extend? What buildings will be built? How many Academic All-Americans will there be? Will Iowa’s 20+ sports teams continue to win an average of less than one Big Ten title per year? Will the athletic department operate in a legal and ethical manner?

No one knows for certain. But thanks to Barta’s extension, we now have another five years to learn the answers.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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