Title IX Lawsuit Filed to Block Iowa From Eliminating Women's Swim Team

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Iowa AD Gary Barta speaks to the media

Members of Iowa's women's swimming and diving team filed a complaint on Friday arguing that the school is not providing equal athletic opportunities for its female students, as required by Title IX.

Included in the complaint, the plaintiffs, Sage Ohlensehlen, Christina Kaufman, Alexa Puccini and Kelsey Drake, asked a federal judge to restore the program.

"Title IX requires educational institutions receiving federal funds to provide equal opportunity and equal treatment in athletics without regard to gender," the complaint states. "The University of Iowa receives substantial federal funding, yet has failed to provide its female undergraduate students with an equal opportunity to participate in athletics, as compared to the opportunities provided to its male undergraduate students."

Last month, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta announced that the school was eliminating four sports at the end of the 2020-21 school year–men's and women's swim teams, men's gymnastics and men's tennis team.

The announcement came 10 days after the Big Ten postponed the fall football season, with the school claiming that the coronavirus pandemic "resulted in a financial exigency" that makes it difficult to support all 24 athletic programs.

However, the Big Ten reversed its initial decision last week and announced it would play a shortened football season starting on Oct. 24. Despite the return of football, Iowa still plans to eliminate the four athletic programs, sparking outrage and the teams' demand for answers.

The lawsuit argues that Iowa was not in compliance with the law for years and should be barred from cutting any women's programs.

It also claims Barta's 14-year tenure as athletic director has been out of step with the school's history of leadership in women's athletics. Since his hiring in 2006, the school has failed to offer any new programs for female students but has "attempted, on multiple fronts, to create public illusions of gender-parity for student athletes," the complaint argues.

The lawsuit recounts a series of gender-related problems that have happened under Barta, the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee. In 2017, a jury found that Barta discriminated against senior associate director Jane Meyer on the basis of her gender and sexual orientation.

Iowa agreed to a $6.5 million settlement with Meyer and her partner Tracey Griesbaum, the Hawkeyes' former women's field hockey coach who was fired by Barta in 2014. 

In 2017, an investigation by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education found potential disparities in uniforms, facilities, academic tutoring, housing and dining and recruiting for female athletes. The two sides negotiated a resolution that called for Iowa to assess its compliance and "take proactive measures to resolve any deficiencies identified."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.