UI Athletics Director speaks about esports controversies

University of Iowa athletics director Gary Barta visited the Washington Noon Rotary Club on Thursday (Kalen McCain/The Union)

Barta joins Rotary Club President Becky Patterson in signing a book that the group donated to the library. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

WASHINGTON — University of Iowa athletics director Gary Barta visited the Washington Noon Rotary Club on Thursday, where he shared a meal and discussed a wide range of controversies in the collegiate athletic world.

“You don’t know how much I enjoy doing this and how much I appreciate being invited,” he said. “I really love all of the small towns in Iowa, and I’ve enjoyed … getting to know the state, getting to know the people of the state.”

The more open the word became to questions, the more controversial the topics became.

AD discusses Iowa’s offenses, worries about nepotism

Iowa football’s underperforming offense this year was a elephant in the room. A visitor asked how the team could attract talented recruits in the future.

“We’re the last ones right now, so at some point you’re like, ‘Hey, do drastic changes need to be made?'” he said. “I love soccer in Iowa, I love sports in Iowa, I’ll be at the next game scratching my head. But as a fan… the product that’s offensively on the field right now is pretty bad.”

Barta acknowledged the offensive struggles.

“Do we have to be much better than now? Absolutely,” he said. “On offense we play first and second years.”

The sporting director said he has confidence in Kirk Ferentz’s decision not to change the lead midway through the year.

“If we fired Brian Ferentz in the middle of the season, would our offense get any better? I would say no,” he said. “It hurts at the moment but we have to get through this season. In the end he will sit down and evaluate, but in the meantime he will try to win.”

Critics have tossed the word “nepotism” this soccer season, citing the family ties between Iowa soccer coach Kirk Ferentz and Brian Ferentz, his son and the team’s offensive coordinator.

Barta said the team took steps to ensure Brian Ferentz’s role was not granted through family favoritism.

“My job is to be the neutral party trying to determine if Kirk is making the same decision that he would be making if it weren’t for his son in that position,” he said. “As part of the management plan, we offer every student athlete and staff member who works with football an anonymous opportunity at the end of each year to ask if they’ve noticed any differences in the way Kirk manages the football team with his son involved.”

Barta prefers name, picture and likeness when in charge

When asked about student athletes’ right to earn revenue from advertising and appearances, Barta said he was ok with the use of names, likenesses and likenesses (NIL).

“In the purest sense it’s a really good thing,” he said. “If they make some money from it, not based on the Tigerhawk but based on their own brand, I think that’s great.”

In Iowa, where there is no state law governing students appearing in advertisements, Barta said the university has minimal rules and tries to keep students informed of all business matters.”

“We ask all of our student-athletes to come forward to use the relationship, they are not required to show us the contract and they are not required to show us how much money they are making,” he said. “We are not permitted by the NCAA to work with our students to ensure they fill out a tax form correctly or that they are signing a contract that is the correct contract. What we are allowed to do is education in general. We have someone come in and talk about contracts in general.”

While Barta said the use of names, pictures, and likenesses had benefits for students, he was concerned about the practice’s use in sketchy recruitment processes.

“The dark side of that is the illegal recruiting where people say, ‘Come to our school, we promise you $100,000 in name, picture and likeness money,'” he said. “It’s not name, image and likeness, it’s inducements. This is illegal recruitment. As a university sports industry, we try to find our way. It’s new, it’s not going away, so we’re working to find the best way forward.”

Division in the splits for transgender athletes

Barta said Iowa has attempted to balance competing fairness concerns about trans women competing in sports.

“Everyone’s trying to be sensitive to the human side, these men and women that are at stake,” he said. “But then you also have to make sure that there is a physiological decision point. Right now, the way the Olympics do it and the NCAA do it, meaning how we would do it, has to do with testosterone and the medical side of it.

Beginning August 1 of this year, the NCAA will allow athletes who are not undergoing hormone treatment to compete in their birth-assigned gender division. However, for trans women undergoing treatment, the rules require “documented testosterone levels” based on their sport at the start of its season and again six months later.

“This means that student-athletes who have already competed do not have to provide the newly adjusted sport-specific testosterone levels for the entire previous year if they are not available,” according to an NCAA website on the subject. “To compete in NCAA championships, transgender athletes must also provide CSMAS with documentation of testosterone levels with laboratory work completed within four weeks of championship selection.”

Big Ten growth unexpected but good business move

Barta said he welcomes the Big Ten’s growth, even if it comes with challenges.

“It’s a change I never would have tasted,” he said. “A lot of these changes are uncomfortable, but I’m okay with feeling uncomfortable.”

Financially, however, the move was a win.

“If you look at it from a business perspective, we now have … the largest television market in the country,” he said. “For those of us in the Big Ten, especially Iowa, it’s not going to be that big of a deal. Our soccer team or our soccer team or whatever, going to LA once or twice a year, probably once, isn’t that big of a deal.”

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