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Title IX Lawsuit Against UI To Continue, Despite Move To Reinstate Women's Swimming And Diving

The University of Iowa will continue fighting a Title IX challenge brought by members of the women’s swimming and diving team, despite the school’s announcement on Monday that it would fully reinstate the program. The sport had been slated to be cut, along with three others, at the end of the year due to a pandemic-related financial deficit in the athletics department.

UI Athletics Director Gary Barta told reporters Tuesday the decision to fully reinstate the women’s swimming and diving program wouldn’t have happened if the student athletes hadn’t brought their Title IX complaint.

“When we made that decision we had no intention of reinstating any of those teams,” Barta said of the decision to dissolve women’s swimming and diving as well as men’s swimming and diving, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis. “The financial crisis is still real and it’s still in front of us.”

An athletics department deficit that was initially estimated to be some $100 million is now in the range of $50-60 million, Barta said, following cuts to positions and salaries as well as initially unexpected revenues from a truncated football season.

In their lawsuit filed in September of 2020, the female student athletes claim the school was out of compliance with the federal law guaranteeing equal opportunity and access to federally funded educational programs even before the decision to cut the sport due to the multi-million dollar budget deficit.

“[T]he number of athletic opportunities allotted to female students is not substantially proportionate to the number of female students in the University of Iowa’s full-time undergraduate student body,” the students’ legal team has argued. “All female students at the UI face unlawful barriers to intercollegiate athletic participation and unequal treatment by their university’s athletics program.”

In December, U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose ordered the school to maintain the program while the lawsuit moved forward, finding that the student athletes’ arguments were compelling.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated a fair chance that the University of Iowa does not presently provide its female student with intercollegiate athletic opportunities in substantial proportion to their enrollment, and is unlikely to do so after eliminating the women’s swimming and diving team for the 2021–22 academic year,” Rose wrote.

Barta said his decision to fully reinstate the program is meant to provide certainty to current athletes, potential recruits and staff as the lawsuit plays out over the coming months or years. But he maintains that the school takes issue with the claims in the lawsuit.

“We believe what we believe, the plaintiffs’ attorney believes what he believes. And I don’t know where that will go. I’ll let that go through its process. But because I don’t know how long that will last, I made the decision that it was…the best move for us to reinstate women’s swimming and move forward,” Barta said. “I know that there’s still steps to be taken by both sides to work through the resolution on the legal side. I’m going to let that take its course.”

Now that the decision has been made, Barta says it’s “permanent” and that he has “zero plans” to cut any other sports.

Barta says the school remains committed to gender equity and staying in compliance with Title IX.

“We’ve been committed to being in Title IX compliance. We’ll remain committed to being in Title IX compliance,” he said. “There are differences of opinion in…that have come up through this lawsuit. That resolution…the attorneys will continue to work through it.”

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter