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Mixed emotions for Hartley as program lives on

Hawkeye women’s swimming and diving program officially reinstated

University of Iowa athletics/hawkeyesports.com: Former Fort Dodge all-stater Taylor Hartley competes during a scrimmage this past fall for the University of Iowa.

IOWA CITY — On the surface, Monday’s official reinstatement of the University of Iowa women’s swimming and diving program seemed like a feel-good end to a story filled with turmoil and uncertainty.

In reality, the scars are deep and the fight seems far from over.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta confirmed the news in a face-to-face meeting with group of Hawkeye student-athletes yesterday afternoon — some six months after the school had first announced deep financial cuts were necessary due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Initially, both Iowa men’s and women’s swimming/diving, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics programs were to be eliminated, as per an official meeting on Aug. 21, 2020.

The women’s program is back on solid ground. What that means beyond an initial sigh of relief, according to former Fort Dodge Senior High all-stater and current Hawkeye junior team member Taylor Hartley, remains to be seen.

“We knew that the team was going to be reinstated for at least one season as part of (a court-ordered) injunction, which we found out in December,” Hartley said. “Many of us started to grow frustrated with the administration, as they provided little to no information about what this meant up until (Monday). That’s when we were told the women’s team only would be having a meeting during practice, and Barta would be there.

“At 2:15, Gary walked in and told us that the women’s program would be reinstated indefinitely. I wouldn’t necessarily describe the feeling in the room as ‘excited,’ because for some of my teammates, this news still won’t change the fact that they are transferring at the end of this year. There’s just been so much uncertainty … it’s hard to really find closure in this news, especially because only half of our team is coming back, since the men are not being reinstated.”

According to a press release from the University, the athletic department estimated a financial deficit of $75 million as a result of the on-going COVID pandemic. A plan was developed to help mitigate the shortfall, which included operational budget cuts, salary reductions, position eliminations, and the discontinuance of the aforementioned four sports at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.

“The estimated deficit has been reduced to approximately $50-$60 million due to those mitigation efforts, and limited revenues generated during the modified football season, but the financial challenge remains significant and the decision to discontinue the three men’s sports identified will remain in place,” the official statement announced.

In September, a lawsuit was filed challenging the decision to discontinue women’s swimming specifically. The preliminary injunction was to continue to offer the sport next year, as the lawsuit made its way through the court system.

“However, in the interests of serving our student-athletes, coaches and community, the University believes more certainty will be beneficial for the future of the program,” the statement continued. “Accordingly, the University has decided it is in the best interests of the student-athletes, coaches, and the athletics department to voluntarily reinstate the program, regardless of any outcome related to the lawsuit.”

Barta called it the “right thing to do.”

“Every student-athlete in all 24 sports at Iowa has experienced challenges and uncertainty since the pandemic began. This has been especially true for the men and women in the four sports we announced would be discontinued after this season,” Barta said. “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.

“We made the decision … to re-instate 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.”

Hartley said the meeting was contentious — and the conclusion felt like a relatively hollow victory.

“After telling us we were reinstated, we were allowed to ask Barta any questions we might have,” Hartley said. “People did not hold back their frustrations with him and with the decision to cut the teams in the first place. The answers we got were the same financial reasons we were given in August, which was frustrating as well.

“I am so happy the team is coming back and there will still be opportunities for young women to swim at Iowa, and that I will get the chance to finish my career here (as a senior next season). But at the same time, it’s very bittersweet. Many of my teammates are still leaving, and the men’s swimming team — as well as the men’s tennis and gymnastics teams — aren’t getting this same opportunity.”

Hartley is an academic all-Big Ten selection and Dean’s List honoree, majoring in health and human physiology. She is the daughter of Fort Dodge’s Bruce and Tracy Hartley.

Former Dodger Andrew Fierke is a Hawkeye men’s team member. Like Hartley, Fierke is also a Hawkeye junior.

Iowa is back in action at the Big Ten Championships Feb. 23-25 in Minneapolis.

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