Iowa reaches settlement in football racial bias lawsuit as state official calls for AD Gary Barta to lose his job

An Iowa state politician is calling for Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, left, to lose his job after the state had to help pay for a multi-million dollar settlement in a racial bias lawsuit against the Iowa football program. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

A settlement has been reached in the discrimination lawsuit involving the University of Iowa football program.

In 2020, a group of Black former Iowa football players sued the university alleging racial discrimination and mistreatment in the Hawkeyes football program under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

On Monday, a settlement for $4.175 million was reached, the Des Moines Register reported. The terms of the settlement have the Iowa athletic department paying out $2.175 million of that sum with the state picking up the rest.

One member of the three-person appeals board from the Iowa Department of Management, Iowa state auditor Rob Sand, said he would oppose using state funds in the settlement unless Iowa athletic director Gary Barta lost his job.

In a letter to the Iowa State Appeal Board, Sand cited multiple other lawsuits involving Iowa athletics that have occurred during Barta’s tenure as athletic director, costing the school and state millions of dollars. Sand said that “personal accountability is necessary” for Barta, who has been the athletic director at Iowa since 2006.

“I will not support taxpayers funding this settlement unless Gary Barta is no longer employed at the university and forfeits any severance or similar pay. I encourage you to join me. Real accountability will help prevent discrimination, protecting both taxpayers and future victims,” Sand’s letter to the board says.

Also on the board are State Treasurer Roby Smith and Department of Management director Kraig Paulsen. On Monday afternoon the vote came out 2-1, approving of the terms of the settlement.

12 former players involved in Iowa lawsuit

Twelve players were involved in the lawsuit, including All-Big Ten running back Akrum Wadley and Kevonte Martin-Manley, the program’s all-time leader in receptions.

Per the Des Moines Register, the 12 players are expected to receive approximately $184,000 each in the settlement. Additionally, Iowa will provide funds toward the players obtaining graduate degrees, as well as picking up the cost for mental health resources.

Barta, Ferentz, Brian Ferentz (Kirk’s son and longtime offensive coordinator) and former strength coach Chris Doyle were all originally named in the lawsuit. They were dismissed from the suit last week.

The players initially sought $20 million and called for Kirk Ferentz, Brian Ferentz and Barta to be fired. In 2020, many former players spoke out about their negative experiences at Iowa, saying they were treated unfairly and unable to be themselves. Many of the complaints involved Doyle, Ferentz’s long-time strength coach, and involved alleged racist comments. Doyle was first put on administrative leave before he and the school reached a separation agreement.

An investigation conducted by law firm Husch Blackwell found that the Iowa football program’s rules “perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity.”

From the report:

“Virtually all the players spoke positively about their position coaches and the influence those coaches have had on their lives, both personally and athletically. Yet numerous players described feeling unhappy and unwelcome, citing to a program culture that they perceive requires strict conformity and rigid adherence to the ‘mold’ of an ideal player, a mold that many Black players felt they could never truly fit because it was built around the stereotype of a clean-cut, White athlete from a midwestern background. Additionally, numerous current and former players and coaches of all races described an environment in which a small number of coaches felt empowered to bully and demean athletes, especially Black athletes.”

Ferentz, who admitted he had a “blind spot” regarding the concerns of Black players, remains in place as head coach, a job he has held since 1999. Brian Ferentz has been an assistant on his father’s staff since 2012 and has served as offensive coordinator since 2017. Even after Iowa's offense finished No. 130 out of 131 teams in the FBS during the 2022 season, Brian Ferentz will remain in place as offensive coordinator in 2023.