University of Iowa reverses course and reinstates women’s swimming and diving program

UI swimmer Erin Lang competes in the women’s 200-yard backstroke preliminary event during the 2020 Women’s Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center in Iowa City on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. — Stephen Mally/

The University of Iowa announced on Monday afternoon it is “fully reinstating women’s swimming and diving as an NCAA and Big Ten Conference program.” The decision came almost six months after UI announced the program would be cut after the end of the season, and seven weeks after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping the university from doing that.

The injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by four members of the women’s team who alleged UI’s decision violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal money. It requires men’s and women’s athletic programs to receive equitable treatment.

In an Aug. 21 written statement, UI Athletics Director Gary Barta and UI President Bruce Harreld said, “The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a financial exigency which threatens our continued ability to adequately support 24 intercollegiate athletics programs at the desired championship level.” Specifically, they blamed the loss of revenue caused by the Big 10 canceling its fall football season due to the pandemic. Barta and Harreld said four programs — men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis –would be eliminated to ease financial pressure on the Athletic Department.

During a news conference three days later, Barta reiterated that the cancellation of the fall football season was the reason the university was cutting the programs.

“The financial fallout that COVID-19 caused led to the postponement, cancellation, of fall football,” he told reporters via Zoom. “Were it not for that, we would not have been dropping those four sports.”

After the Big 10 reversed its decision on Sept. 16 and played a limited fall season, Barta was firm that incoming football revenue would not save any of the programs.

“Will the announcement of football change the decisions we made?” he said on Sept. 17. “No.”

On Sept. 25, Sage Ohlensehlen, Alexa Puccini, Christina Kaufman and Kelsey Drake, all members of the women’s swimming and diving team, filed their Title IX lawsuit against UI, seeking the reinstatement of their program.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose found the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their lawsuit, and issued a preliminary injunction on Dec. 24, prohibiting UI from eliminating the women’s swimming and diving program.

The university has appealed that ruling, but as of Monday, that appeal was still pending.

In its announcement on Monday, UI said it “continues to disagree with the claims made in the lawsuit,” but agreed to restore the women’s swimming and diving program “in the interests of serving our student-athletes, coaches and community.”

The statement quotes Barta as saying the lawsuit and the injunction “has created additional uncertainty that could last several months or even years.”

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According to Barta, “We made the decision the right thing to do was 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.”

The reinstatement of the women’s swimming and diving team does change the status of the other three sports that were cut on Aug. 21, according to Monday’s statement. Citing increased costs associated with COVID-19 mitigation efforts and less revenue from the limited fall football season, UI said. “the decision to discontinue the three men’s sports identified will remain in place.”