IOWA CITY, Iowa--(BUSINESS WIRE)--On August 21, 2020, four days after the start of the semester, the University of Iowa Athletic Department announced the abrupt cancellation of four varsity athletic programs, effective at the close of the 2020-21 academic year. The four programs terminated were men’s and women’s swimming & diving, men’s gymnastics, and men’s tennis. The reason given was a revenue shortfall due to the Big Ten decision to cancel fall competitive sports out of concern for COVID and player/fan safety. However, the University also announced that this decision was permanent, and no amount of private capital would be considered to reinstate any program, which has led to scrutiny of the Athletic Department’s finances and why such small budget programs would be cut without exhausting all other options. It was further reported that football coaches received raises – even as the team’s practice was halted on September 1 due to members testing positive for COVID.
As a result, there has been an outcry about both the decision and the manner in which it was conducted from current student athletes, parents, the broad swimming enthusiast community, and Iowa’s athlete alumni base. Hundreds of current and former student athletes have now mobilized in on-campus activities, a dedicated Facebook page and website, internal conversations with University leadership, and now a group of more than 250 former athletes and coaches have co-signed an open letter to the Iowa Board of Regents outlining errors in process and procedures.
The four teams affected ended their 2020 seasons in March in strong positions. Men’s Tennis had a break-through year in 2020, moving into the Top 20 for the first time in the NCAA rankings in March; the third highest Big-10 team on the list. Men’s Gymnastics were in the Top 10 before the season was cut short. For Swimming & Diving, Iowa men and women each had three team members finish as NCAA All-Americans and the teams consistently perform well in the pool and the classroom, with 12 Academic All Americans and 24 Academic All Big Ten awards, more than any other sport at Iowa.
The University of Iowa Swimming & Diving program has a legacy spanning more than 100 years, and has a historic place in the sport. The butterfly stroke was invented at the Field House pool by coach David Armbruster with Iowa swimmer Jack Sieg in the 1930’s, considered the most difficult of the four competition strokes and the true test of a swimmer’s fitness and technique. The team has had many All American and Big Ten Champions over the years, and it is slated to host the NCAA Men’s Championships in Spring 2021. Known for their loyalty to Iowa Swimming, in 2017, the University hosted a celebration on campus of the 100-year Anniversary of Iowa Swimming, which was the best-attended team reunion the University has ever hosted.
Vickie Nauman, a globally recognized leader in the music sector, is one of the former Iowa swimmers leading the charge. The All-American athlete, now living in Los Angeles, said, “My experience on the University of Iowa swimming team was life-changing. It set me up with skills that have shaped my career and my approach to life, taking me from my hometown in Des Moines to doing music and tech business internationally. I was shocked to see the school so abruptly and arbitrarily cut the entire internationally renowned swim program for both men and women, along with men’s gymnastics and tennis. While we all are making sacrifices for COVID, this seems a capricious decision that was not made with much thought of the implications to current student athletes, or alumni, who have been ambassadors and financial supporters of the new the swim facility. Nor have they considered the legacy of this program or the future students who will no longer have access to these important athletic programs in Iowa.”
In addition to Nauman, Iowa alum Mark Kaufman, CEO and Founder of Athletico, a full-service physical therapy company with over 500 locations across twelve states, is involved in multiple efforts on this issue. Kaufman got his athletic training degree at Iowa, and also has a daughter on the swimming team. “I have been a supporter of the University of Iowa for many years across a number of different sports and academic programs, and this decision impacts not only my daughter’s swimming career, but my relationship with my own alma mater,” said Kaufman. “All Hawkeye athletes and alumni should be concerned that the University would so haphazardly cut four well-established programs – what comes next? I am working with parents, coaches and alumni to get clarity on this and find a better solution for all Iowa athletes.”
Emma Sougstad is a 2-time All American swimmer and graduate at Iowa, holds 9 swimming records, and was also recently an assistant coach of the team. “The student athletes are devastated. This program means so much to them and we have all worked incredibly hard to recruit these ambitious men and women from around the world to come be a Hawkeye. Most of our swimmers had a number of choices of universities offering scholarships, and they chose Iowa. I’m working to help amplify this across social media using #savehawkeyesports to show how valuable this program is. I hope we will be heard.”
Nauman has submitted her letter to the Board of Regents co-signed by hundreds of former athletes from Iowa football, swimming, diving, tennis, wrestling, volleyball and gymnastics, plus coaches and athletic trainers. The goal is to reinstate the programs and institute a proper process to sustain them long term.