State board approves millions in settlement with former Hawkeye football players
DES MOINES — A state board has approved a more than $4 million settlement with former University of Iowa football players who alleged the Hawkeye program was a racially hostile environment for black players, but members of the State Appeals Board raised concerns about management of Iowa athletics.
AUDIO of Appeals Board runs 10 minutes
State Treasurer Roby Smith said he has “zero tolerance” for discrimination of any kind. “I do encourage the university to reexamine the relationship with Gary Bartz, Brian Ferentz and others named in recent lawsuits,” Smith said. “Iowans expect better. Iowans deserve better.”
Barta, the university’s athletic director, and Ferentz, the football team’s offensive coordinator, were named in the players’ original lawsuit. Despite those reservations, Smith and state budget director Kraig Paulsen voted to approve the settlement, with nearly half of it being covered by state tax dollars and the rest paid out the athletics department budget. Smith called it a good “business decision” for the state, as Iowans could be “on the hook” for far more if the case went to trial.
“While I would certainly prefer the University of Iowa to fund this settlement entirely out of its own university funds, first…it is the obligation of the state to pay judgements against the state departments out of the state treasury and second and most importantly this is a settlement agreed to by all parties and the state attorney feels it is in the best financial interest of the Iowa taxpayers,” Smith said.
State Auditor Rob Sand opposes having Iowa taxpayers cover two million dollars of the settlement. In a news conference Monday morning, Sand said this is the fourth discrimination settlement during Barta’s tenure as the university’s athletic director and it’s time for him to go.
“The three prior discrimination settlements were paid by the athletic department,” Sand said during the Appeals Board meeting, “…so it wouldn’t be illegal for them to cover the entire cost themselves.”
Paulsen, the governor’s budget director, is the third member of the State Appeals Board and he questioned Sand. “I obviously respect that you can do your own analysis, I just again am not in a position where I’m ready to basically convict the group of defendants in this and hold one out in particular,” Paulsen said.
Paulsen suggested legislators may have an interest in reviewing the settlement, however. “I think having a conversation about what part of liability and what part of risk the state General Fund is going to accept on behalf of the University of Iowa is a meritorious conversation,” Paulsen said. “I think it’s a public policy question and, with the General Assembly in town, I think that’s something that they can address in real time.”
Barta released a written statement Monday morning about the settlement. “The University of Iowa Athletic Department remains committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for every student-athlete and staff member involved in our program,” Barta said.
Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz said he is “greatly disappointed” the state’s attorney general and university representatives negotiated this settlement.
In a written statement released, Ferentz said for more than two years the Hawkeye football program had been “unfairly maligned” by the allegations and the settlement was offered without consulting him or other coaches named in the lawsuit.
Ferentz indicated he’s been told the reason for the settlement was financial, to avoid the possibility of a large jury verdict. Ferentz, in his statement, said the settlement clears the coaches of any wrongdoing — but had hoped a judge would have been given a chance to rule on their motion for a dismissal of the case. According to Ferentz, many former members of the team said things that they later recanted when questioned under oath.