Iowa lawmakers introduce bill to make universities reimburse state in athletic department settlements

(ABC 6 News) – Iowa House Republicans introduced a new bill on Wednesday aimed at keeping taxpayers from covering the cost of lawsuits that are settled against institutions of higher learning athletic departments.

The State’s Appeal Board voted 2-1 to approve the use of taxpayer money to cover half of the $4.2 million settlement over a racial discrimination lawsuit against the University of Iowa football team.

RELATED: Iowa football settles race bias lawsuit using taxpayer money

The bill labeled, House Bill 229, would make an institution of higher learning, governed by the State Board of Regents, reimburse the state for payouts on settlements relating to the conduct or actions of an employee of an athletic department.

If passed, the bill would require the University of Iowa to pay the full $4.2 million settlement. Currently, the state’s general fund, made up of taxpayer dollars, is being used to pay nearly half of the settlement.

Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand objected to the State’s Appeal Board ruling saying that Gary Barta, who has been the University of Iowa’s athletic director since 2006, should be fired for a series of lawsuits ending in settlements under his watch.

“I can’t imagine a private company that would still have someone at the helm after four discrimination lawsuits under that person’s leadership,” said Sand. “The athletic department, they’ve got the funds for it. The broadcast deal brings tens of millions of dollars every year going forward. I don’t know why they can’t cover their own mistakes and pay for their own mistakes instead of having taxpayer’s do it.”

The lawsuit filed in November 2020 involved former University of Iowa football players including former star running back Akrum Wadley and career receptions leader Kevonte Martin-Manley. They alleged they were demeaned with racial slurs, forced to abandon Black hairstyles, fashion and culture to fit the “Iowa Way” promoted by head coach Kirk Ferentz, and retaliated against for speaking out.

Barta, Ferentz, his son and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and former strength coach Chris Doyle were dismissed from the lawsuit last week, which signaled that a proposed settlement was imminent.

Kirk Ferentz said in a statement he is “greatly disappointed” in how the matter was resolved. “These discussions took place entirely without the knowledge or consent of the coaches who were named in the lawsuit,” Ferentz said. “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.”

Ferentz added that “as part of the settlement, the coaches named were dismissed from the lawsuit and there is no admission of any wrongdoing.”

The players initially sought $20 million in damages plus the firings of Barta and the Ferentzes.