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University Of Iowa Establishes Women's Wrestling As Part Of Title IX Lawsuit Settlement

Jaslynn Gallegos settles into her wrestling stance.
Courtesy of Delfino Rodriguez
Courtesy of Delfino Rodriguez
Jaslynn Gallegos settles into her wrestling stance.

The University of Iowa has reached a settlement agreement for a Title IX lawsuit brought by female athletes who alleged the school isn’t providing equal access in sports. As part of the agreement, the UI Athletics Department is creating a women’s wrestling team. While the school’s athletics director says the sport wouldn’t have been added now but for the legal challenge, he says the decision to create the program is “historic” and has been in the works for years.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference Thursday, UI Athletics Director Gary Barta said under the terms of the settlement, the school agreed to add another women’s sport, ultimately deciding that women’s wresting “makes the most sense."

“As part of the Title IX lawsuit settlement, we agreed to add a women's sport,” Barta said. “And our decision was to add the sport of women's wrestling.”

Barta says the UI had been considering adding women’s wrestling for years, noting that a new wrestling training facility the school hopes to begin building next year was designed to include space for a women’s program, long before Thursday’s announcement.

Still, Barta said he would not have established the program if not for the Title IX lawsuit filed by four female members of the swimming and diving team in 2020.

The legal challenge came after the UI announced it was cutting the sport and three others due to pandemic-related deficits. The athletes argue the school was out of compliance with Title IX even before women’s swimming and diving was cut. The sport has since been reinstated.

“Were it not for the Title IX lawsuit, I wasn't ready to add women's wrestling yet,” Barta said. “But I can tell you that while the timing may be challenging, the decision is awesome. We're excited about it. And we're ready to go…go forward.”

Barta didn’t offer many more details on the settlement besides noting that “the paperwork is still being finalized” and that the university has been and remains committed to being in compliance with the federal law.

Barta called the establishment of the women’s wrestling program “historic," noting that Iowa is the first school in the Power Five athletic conferences to add the sport.

Tom Brands, Iowa’s head wrestling coach, said the news will inspire girls across Iowa and around the world.

“There's little girls all across the country and the planet that are going to see this. It's that impactful,” Brands said. “You have an unbelievably historic exciting announcement that University of Iowa is adding women's wrestling to its intercollegiate program. There's nothing more impactful than that.”

Brands said he will collaborate with Barta and others on a national search for a new coach for the program, a process which will start this fall.

In a written statement released by the university, Olympian Tamyra Mensah-Stock heralded the decision. At the Tokyo Olympics she became the first Black American woman to win gold in wrestling.

“This is amazing news for women’s wrestling. It’s good to see these changes taking place, especially because there are so many states sanctioning female wrestling,” Mensah-Stock’s statement reads. “It makes me happy to see this is happening and I want to thank Iowa for being a pioneer in the sport. With this decision I know it’ll only be a matter of time before other Division I schools follow their lead.”

Sally Roberts, founder and CEO of the national advocacy organization Wrestle Like A Girl, has been pushing to expand the sport.

“Wrestle Like A Girl is thrilled to celebrate with the University of Iowa on its announcement of its varsity women’s wrestling program,” Roberts said in a written statement. “Iowa has been a leader in wrestling and is continuing a path of leadership. The University of Iowa will once again be at the forefront, but this time with a whole new focus: WOMEN'S WRESTLING.”

Men’s wrestling has a long and fabled history in the state of Iowa, which boasts a number of national and Olympic champions. As Barta put it, the sport is “part of the fabric of Iowa." While the women’s program will benefit from that legacy, Barta said it will stand “on its own merits."

The anticipated roster of the program will be between 30-35 people, with 10 scholarships that can be divided among them. The program’s student athletes are slated to start officially competing in the fall of 2023.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter