Barta’s management under scrutiny — again

STRAY THOUGHTS

BY RANDY EVANS

There’s so much anxiety going around in Iowa City now, and Maalox could easily qualify as the official summer beverage.

There’s anxiety over what the fall semester will look like at the University of Iowa, with coronavirus still a fact of life in the community and enforcement of social distancing next to impossible in dormitories, classrooms and student hangouts.

There’s anxiety over how many students will decide to sit out the coming school year because of concern for their health. A significant drop in the university’s enrollment could cause the school’s financial problems to mushroom.

There’s anxiety over how coronavirus will change the Hawkeyes’ football season, the social event of the fall in Iowa City and the biggest revenue-generating sport for the UI Athletics Department. Deliberately leaving half or more of the seats empty at Kinnick Stadium would cause a strain on the department budget, and a spate of coronavirus cases among players, coaches, stadium workers and fans would cause many public relations headaches.

As if this were not enough, there’s the anxiety brought on by the way the Hawkeye football staff has treated Black players, and the fallout from that will continue through the season.

And some of that Maalox ought to be reserved for Gary Barta, the director of athletics.

One of the unavoidable realities about the allegations made by Black players is this: Barta’s management of the athletics program will be under the microscope this summer, too, just as surely as will the coaching style of Kirk Ferentz and his assistants.

Barta found himself right in the hot seat last month when he defended his treatment of football strength coach Chris Doyle, who was allowed to resign with a $1.3 million payout not required by his contract, versus his handling of Tracey Griesbaum, the head women’s field hockey coach, who was paid $200,000 as her contract required, when Barta fired her in 2014.

There were allegations that Doyle and Griesbaum both bullied their players. Doyle was accused of making racially insensitive or belittling comments about Black players. Nineteen former Hawkeyes spoke out publicly about the demeaning way Doyle treated them.

In Griesbaum’s case, several unnamed field hockey players said she was verbally abusive toward them and pressured some team members to play while injured. But current and former players came to her defense and mounted a very public campaign to get her reinstated. Although the university concluded she did not violate any of its policies, officials would not budge on reinstating her.

Barta’s handling of Griesbaum’s firing and his reassignment of her partner, longtime athletics administrator Jane Meyer, led to embarrassing gender-discrimination lawsuits against the university. In the end, the university settled the cases by paying the women $6.5 million.

In an article Sunday, the Cedar Rapids Gazette explored the disparities in how the cases of Doyle and Griesbaum were handled by Barta.

Griesbaum told the Gazette, “It’s very evident that Chris Doyle had an opportunity to coach differently than I did. Even to the very end, he was treated differently. I was not given the ‘thoughtful and sensible’ thing [that Doyle received], and that is completely riddled with gender bias.”

Her lawyer, Jill Zwagerman of Des Moines, told the newspaper, “For him to walk away with a million dollars is about as double standard as you can get. … Male coaches get a handshake and a ‘sorry it didn’t work out,’ and female coaches get blasted.”

When Griesbaum was fired in 2014, Barta said he wanted new leadership for the field hockey program — even though Griesbaum’s Hawkeye teams had winning records in 12 of her 14 seasons, won three Big 10 conference titles and reached the NCAA tournament six times, including one Final Four appearance.

Barta’s place on the hot seat is secure this summer, because one of the coaches besides Doyle who is accused by Black players of abuse is Brian Ferentz, the head coach’s son. Because of the university’s nepotism policy, the younger Ferentz cannot be supervised by Kirk Ferentz, so he reports directly to Barta.

Barta tap-danced around questions about Brian Ferentz at a June 15 news conference.

“I’m going to judge this situation on what comes forward in its unique sense,” he told reporters. “What is in common, and this sounds simple: Student-athletes having an opportunity to have a great experience academically, athletically and socially is critical. That’s the case whether it’s field hockey or football.”

Before deciding what action may be warranted, Barta said he will wait to see what a Kansas City law firm’s investigation finds about the Black players’ complaints of racism and bullying.

Griesbaum and others who have followed a series of embarrassing hiring and firing controversies involving Barta during his 14 years in Iowa City will be watching to see how he responds to Brian Ferentz’s role in the scandal.

Until then, stock up on Maalox.

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