Gary Barta, UI’s embattled Athletics director, abruptly announces retirement

University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta addresses allegations of social injustice in the Hawkeye football program at a June 15, 2020 news conference. — Iowa Hawkeyes on YouTube

The University of Iowa announced on Friday morning that Athletics Director Gary Barta is retiring. The announcement was a surprise. Barta’s current contract wasn’t set to expire until June 2024, and earlier this year he told the Gazette he hadn’t given “any consideration” to retirement.

The statement released by UI Athletics on Friday quoted Barta as saying, “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

Barta did not give any reasons for his decision beyond saying he is “confident this is the right time for me and for my family” for him to leave his position.

According to the statement, Barta’s resignation will take effect on Aug. 1 and the university will appoint an interim AD next week.

The announcement of Barta’s departure comes shortly after the Hawkeye women’s basketball team led by Head Coach Lisa Bluder capped a remarkable season, reaching the NCAA championship game. It also comes soon after calls for Barta to resign or be fired following the university settling the latest lawsuit alleging discrimination in UI Athletics during Barta’s tenure.

On March 6, UI and the Iowa Board of Regents announced they had agreed to pay $4.2 million to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by eight Black former Hawkeye football players. Because Iowa law requires lawsuit settlements against state agencies be paid from the state’s general fund, the state had to provide $2 million to settle the Regents’ part of the case. UI Athletics provided the other $2.2 million.

Settlement payments from the general fund must be approved by the three-member State Appeals Board. State Auditor Rob Sand, one of the board members, said in a public letter to fellow board members before the vote that he would not approve the payment “unless Gary Barta is no longer employed at the University.”

“Under Gary Barta’s leadership at the University of Iowa Athletics Department, we’ve had the Peter Gray scandal plus three incidents of discrimination totaling nearly $7 million in damages (setting aside other suits),” Sand wrote in his letter.

Gray resigned from UI Athletics in 2012, after an internal investigation found evidence he had sexually harassed athletes and students while associate director of athletic student services.

“Enough is enough,” Sand wrote. “Clear personal accountability is necessary… Real accountability will help prevent discrimination, protecting both taxpayers and future victims.”

Sand did vote against the settlement, but the other two board members – State Treasurer Roby Smith and Kraig Paulson, the director of the Iowa Department of Management – voted to approve it.

Three days after the board’s vote, UI President Barbara Wilson issued a statement saying the university would reimburse the state for the $2 million from the general fund. That statement did not address Barta’s status.

Barta’s comment to the Gazette about not having given any consideration to retirement came before the lawsuit settlement was announced.

“When President Wilson first started, I told her I don’t plan to go anywhere,” he said at that time. “If she’ll have me, we’ll just keep going.”

The 59-year-old Barta had been the university’s AD for 17 years. His latest contract paid him more than $1 million a year, with a $650,000 base salary, $400,000 in deferred compensation and various bonuses and incentives.

In the statement released on Friday, UI President Wilson said, “Gary’s achievements at the University of Iowa are significant, and our coaches and student-athletes have enjoyed tremendous success on and off the field during his tenure. I’m grateful for his leadership as a Hawkeye and I wish him well in his retirement.”

Earlier this month, UI Athletics issued a statement saying it was cooperating with an investigation into possibly illicit and illegal sports-wagering by “about 111 individuals” including “26 current student-athletes from baseball, football, men’s basketball, men’s track and field, and men’s wrestling, as well as one full-time employee of the UI Department of Athletics.”

This story originally appeared in LV Daily, Little Village’s Monday-Friday email newsletter. Sign up to have it delivered for free to your inbox.