DES MOINES, IOWA — A $4.175 million settlement has been reached between the state of Iowa, the University of Iowa and 12 Black former Hawkeye football players who accused current and former coaches of discriminating against them because of their race. Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz did not approve of the settlement, he later said in a statement.
The settlement was approved by a 2-1 vote of the State Board of Appeal, with two members questioning whether Gary Barta should continue to lead the University of Iowa Athletics Department after another multi-million dollar lawsuit was settled against it.
The vote of the State Board of Appeal was required because the lawsuit settlement includes $2 million from the state’s general fund. State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, voted against the settlement. He stated beforehand that he would only support the settlement if Barta was “gone” as Iowa’s athletic director.
Sand said, “What is really important to me here is that this is now the fourth discrimination settlement while Gary Barta has been the athletic director at the University of Iowa. Enough is enough. I cannot understand why not only would he maintain his job here, but in addition to that, for the first time in these settlements, they’re asking the general fund to contribute to the payment of that settlement rather than having the athletic department itself pay for that settlement. As someone who sits on that appeal board and look at that and say, ‘no way.'”
State Treasurer Roby Smith and Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen – both Republicans – approved the settlement without any caveat tied to Barta’s job.
Paulsen stated that it wasn’t the board’s role to include Barta’s position as part of its decision. He said, “We’re not here to make an employment decision. We’re here to make a decision of what’s in the best interests of the state of Iowa in its totality. Very much seems to me, upon the recommendation of the attorney general’s office, that this is the wise decision to make.”
Paulsen said the state legislature should get involved if it doesn’t believe tax dollars should be part of a settlement like this.
Smith did say that the University of Iowa should “re-examine” the employment of both Barta and Brian Ferentz. Smith said, “Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Given this, I would encourage the university to re-examine the relationship with not only Gary Barta but Brian Ferentz and others named in recent lawsuits.”
Barta released a statement that didn’t address Sand’s call for him to leave his job. The statement said, “The Athletic Department remains committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for every student-athlete and staff member involved in our program. The Hawkeyes over-arching goal to win every time we compete, graduate every student-athlete that comes to Iowa, and to do it right, remains our focus.”
The lawsuit was filed in November 2020. The 12 former players accused the Iowa coaching staff of racially demeaning conduct against them. That included strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who was later fired. Both Kirk and Brian Ferentz have remained on staff as the lawsuit has played out. Barta, the Ferentzes and Doyle were removed as individuals from the lawsuit last month.
That set the stage for the settlement proposal.
Kirk Ferentz released a statement after news of the settlement was reached, saying he was ‘greatly disappointed’ that the case didn’t go to trial where he believes the state of Iowa would have succeeded:
“I am greatly disappointed in how this legal matter was resolved. However, I am grateful for the many players, parents, donors, fans, and others who remained supportive of our coaches and program during this time.
The settlement negotiations took place between plaintiff’s counsel and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office which represents the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents. These discussions took place entirely without the knowledge or consent of the coaches who were named in the lawsuit. In fact, the parties originally named disagree with the decision to settle, fully believing that the case would have been dismissed with prejudice before trial.
A motion for summary judgement was filed which outlined why the case should have been dismissed. Unfortunately, this settlement was reached between the plaintiff’s attorneys and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office before the judge had an opportunity to rule on the motion. We have been told the reason for the settlement is financial. As a part of the settlement, the coaches named were dismissed from the lawsuit and there is no admission of any wrongdoing.
For more than two years, our program has been unfairly and negatively impacted by these allegations. “Members of the staff had their character and reputation tarnished by former members of our team who said things, then recanted many statements when questioned under oath. (See attached)
Today we move forward. My focus is entirely on the players, coaches, and staff as we prepare for the 2023 season.”Kirk Ferentz, University of Iowa Head Football Coach