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Bias suit seeks to block Iowa from cutting women's sports
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Bias suit seeks to block Iowa from cutting women's sports

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Four members of the Iowa women’s swimming and diving program have filed a Title IX complaint regarding the university’s decision to discontinue to the program following the current academic year.

Christina Kaufman, a sophomore from Oak Brook, Ill., Sage Ohlensehlen, a senior from Bettendorf, Alexa Puccini, a freshman from Naperville, Ill., and Kelsey Drake, a senior from Marion, Iowa, filed the complaint submitted Friday morning by attorney Jared C. Larew.

In the complaint, the four indicate that the university’s actions “have caused harm to the plaintiffs, and those who are similarly situation, and constitute intentional, prohibited discrimination based on sex in violation of Title IX of the education amendments of 1972.’’

The complaint states that Iowa has “failed to provide student-athletes with athletic opportunities at a rate that is ‘substantially proportionate’ to their undergraduate and full-time enrollment rate, and it has failed to show that the interests and abilities of the historically underrepresented sex have been fully and effectively accommodated.’’

The plaintiffs are seeking reinstatement of the women’s swimming and diving program at Iowa as well as “judicial remedies’’ to ensure Iowa’s compliance with Title IX including ordering that Iowa establish more athletic opportunities and programs for women.

The Iowa women’s swimming and diving program was one of four intercollegiate athletics programs that director of athletics Gary Barta and university president Bruce Harreld announced on Aug. 21 were being discontinued because of financial issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iowa also plans to end its men’s gymnastics, men’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year for the same reasons.

At the time, Barta was estimating that Iowa’s self-supporting athletics department faced a loss of approximately $100 million in revenue and was facing a budget shortfall of $60-75 million during the current fiscal year because of a Big Ten decision to postpone fall sports.

The conference has since decided to start a shortened football season on the weekend of Oct. 24.

If all games are played, Big Ten teams will play nine games over a nine-week period and all games are expected to be played with no tickets sold to the general public.

That decision will restore some television revenue that would have been lost if games were not played and during a meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents on Wednesday, Barta now estimates Iowa faces a budget shortfall of $40-60 million.

He told Regents that with the size of the shortfall, all previously announced cost-cutting measures including the elimination of the four sports programs remained final decisions.

Iowa also cut 40 jobs from its athletic department staff and implemented salary reductions and furloughs for staff members.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs accuse Iowa of not providing equal opportunities for women in athletics.

They argue that while females made up 53.56 percent of Iowa’s student body during the 2018-19 academic year, women received only 50.77 percent of athletic opportunities.

The complaint also alleges the university has disproportionate compensation for coaches in men’s and women’s sports, stating that men’s head coaches have an average salary of $998,000 and women’s head coaches average $230,000.

It also accuses of Iowa of stashing what the complaint calls “benchwarmers’’ on its women’s teams to improve gender equity statistics, filling rosters with additional bodies create balance.

“By using such masking and distorting practices, the women’s participation statistics in the Barta era have been significantly inflated and the substantial failure of the UI to have provided equal athletics opportunities for men and women have been obscured,’’ the complaint states.

Iowa currently offers 24 intercollegiate sports programs, 13 for women and 11 for men.

In announcing the decision last month to cut four programs, Barta and Harreld asserted that Title IX implications were considered.

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