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Facing Title IX Suit, Iowa Reinstates Women's Swimming

Paul Steinbach

In the face of a Title IX lawsuit, the University of Iowa announced Monday it is reversing its decision to cut women's swimming and diving — one of four sports programs cut by the school last August.

The lawyer for four women suing the university told the Des Moines Register on Monday that the reinstatement is only a first step. Jim Larew maintains that the university is out of balance with the amount of varsity roster spots afforded to women and that he will continue to press for Iowa to add a new sport — such as women's wrestling or rugby — even after it brings back swimming.

Three sports — men's swimming and diving, men's tennis and men's gymnastics — will not be reinstated, despite outside fundraising efforts to save them.

From AB: Football Alum Matt Purdy Tries to Save Hawkeye Sports

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, who will address the media at 1 p.m. Tuesday to talk about his decision, said in a news release that he chose to bring back women's swimming in order to avoid a drawn-out lawsuit.

"The women’s swimming lawsuit brought forward last September, combined with the recent court order mandating the continuation of the sport during the legal process, has created additional uncertainty that could last several months or even years," Barta said.

“We made the decision the right thing to do was to reinstate the women’s swimming and diving program and remove any uncertainty moving forward for our current student-athletes, as well as high school swimmers considering attending the University of Iowa.”

Matt Purdy, a former Iowa football player whose son is transferring from the Hawkeyes to another swim program, told AB Today he is happy for the women who "fought so hard to get their voices heard."

However, Purdy, a frequent spokesperson for the Save Hawkeye Sports movement, tempered his enthusiasm. "In all honestly, this team is not viable at this point because most of the team has committed to swim at other universities and they have no recruits waiting to accept offers from a university that has not provided a long-term plan for this team," Purdy told AB Today. "In fact, this team could get cut again next year or the year after, so why would any athlete join this program with its uncertain future. As a parent, I would not send my child there knowing the situation. Way too risky, especially with an administration that has shown an obvious lack of respect for the student/athlete on that campus.

"Yesterday's announcement was in some way a response to a $6 million offer letter from the Save Hawkeye Sports group to the university. Instead of engaging us in conversation and negotiations, they have chosen to make this their approach and try and make it appear they have done something right, when in fact they are just following the judge's order."   

As reported by the Register, Sage Ohlensehlen, a senior swimmer at Iowa who is one of the four original plaintiffs in the Title IX lawsuit, said she was ecstatic when Barta delivered the news in a meeting with the entire team Monday. Barta told the athletes that swimming has been preserved "indefinitely," Ohlensehlen said, offering no apology or admission that he had been wrong to put the sport in jeopardy in the first place.

"I'm so grateful that we were reinstated," Ohlensehlen told the Register on Monday evening. "My hopes are that it would be permanent, but I do have a trust issue going on with the university right now. I'm a little apprehensive moving forward. I will always have that fear in my mind."

Mark Kaufman, whose daughter, Christina, is a Hawkeye swimmer, said he felt the university was merely belatedly doing what was inevitable, given that a federal judge had issued an injunction in December requiring Iowa to keep the women's swimming team until a final ruling in the lawsuit. Kaufman, who has been active in a group called Save Iowa Sports, was bitter that it took so long.

"The team has been decimated. Athletes have left. Coaches have left. And the team is still competing. They're doing what they can," Kaufman told the Register. "But Iowa slow-played this to the point where their backs were against the wall. But what does it do now? It's a completely different challenge."

Purdy contends few student-athletes should feel secure in Iowa City, telling AB Today, "If I were a member of any other team on that campus — outside of football and basketball — I would be very worried for the future of my program."

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