UI Athletics will reimburse state the $2 million to settle football discrimination lawsuit

Fans move towards Kinnick Stadium on Melrose Avenue in Iowa City on Sept. 20, 2022, a rainy day that ended in a dreary loss for the Hawkeye football team to ISU, 7-10. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Three days after the State Appeals Board voted 2-1 to pay $2 million from the state’s general fund to help settle a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the University of Iowa’s football program, UI President Barbara Wilson issued a statement saying the university will reimburse the state.

“After listening to the concerns of Iowans, and in consultation with Board of Regents leadership, I have determined that the University of Iowa Department of Athletics will reimburse the state general fund for the $2 million due to the recent settlement,” Wilson said in the written statement on Thursday.

To settle the lawsuit filed in 2020 by eight Black former Hawkeye football players, UI and the Iowa Board of Regents agree to pay the players $4.2 million. The university’s share — $2.2 million — will come from UI Athletics, but because the Board of Regents, a state agency, was a party to the agreement, Iowa Code requires its share of the settlement be paid from the state general fund.

Wilson’s announcement came one day after a bill was introduced in the Iowa House that would mandate UI repay the $2 million. HSB 229, which was filed on Wednesday morning and immediately approved by a House subcommittee, would require the state to be reimbursed for the use of any state funds to settle a lawsuit “relating to the conduct or actions of an employee of an athletic department of an institution of higher learning governed by the state board of regents.”

In addition to the university and the Board of Regents, the lawsuit originally also included head coach Kirk Ferentz, his son and offensive coordinator Brian, linebackers coach Seth Wallace, former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, and UI Athletic Director Gary Barta as defendants. As part of the settlement, the claims against those five were dropped.

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

Any legal settlement using state funds must be approved by the three-member State Appeals Board. It’s members are the Iowa State Auditor, the State Treasurer and the director of the Iowa Department of Management. On Monday, Auditor Rob Sand was the lone no vote on the settlement.

Sand had announced before the board met that he considered it important that Barta be held responsible for conduct of his department’s employees that led to this settlement and three settlements of discrimination lawsuits, as well as the “environment that bullies and demeans athletes, especially Black athletes” documented in an independent review of the football program published in 2020.

“I just look at this and see sort of a fourth bite at the apple and don’t understand why at that point taxpayers would be asked to chip in,” Sand said during the board meeting.“So, I don’t think I can support it unless Barta is no longer at the university and forfeited any severance or similar pay that he was entitled to.”

“I just see this as a question of institutional accountability and trust for the public. At a certain point, the institution’s got to show the public that it’s aware of its own issues, and is there to serve and not there to protect each other from different issues.”

Wilson did not mention Barta or the allegations of racial discrimination made in the lawsuit in her statement on Thursday, but did conclude by saying, “I am deeply committed to our students’ success and well-being on and off the field of play.”

Sand reacted to the news of the reimbursement in a tweet that thanked Wilson, and asked UI Athletics to send a copy of the check to his office.