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New UI club roils water

BY JORDAN FRIES | DECEMBER 04, 2009 7:30 AM

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Officials from the UI Competition with Private Enterprise Committee failed to make a decision Thursday regarding a complaint filed by the Iowa City Eels swim club against the UI’s new Iowa Flyers club.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the complaint alleges that the Flyers — formed on Sept. 2 — violated an internal university policy against school entities competing with private enterprises unless certain requirements are satisfied, including the consultation of the community beforehand.

The committee reviewed the complaint on Thursday afternoon, but it postponed a decision until next week.

Eels, a nonprofit group that practices at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center, formed in November 1969, but according to club spokesman Paul Soderdahl, the UI Flyers’ inception creates concern for the long-term viability of the Eels.

“The UI has endless resources that it can throw at this new swim team,” Soderdahl said. “We are concerned that this is tipping the scales and abolishing the free market of local swim clubs.”

He wants the Flyers, who enroll 92 swimmers, reduced to a recreational program and its USA Swimming license stripped.

Soderdahl said the Eels, which targets the same 6- to 18-year-old audience as the Flyers, have lost 23 percent of their swimmers in the past year, dropping from 110 to 85 enrolled swimmers.

Other short-term concerns for the Eels include an $8,000 budget hole, which could balloon to $10,000 by May, Soderdahl said.

But Phil Julson, the UI’s director of aquatics, said only nine Eels swimmers have transferred directly to the Flyers, which practice in the Field House. He believes the UI’s new club satisfies a necessary market that wasn’t previously available.

“We are trying to cater to the kids who finish their swimming lessons and feel comfortable in a pool but aren’t quite ready to move up to hard-core competitive swimming,” Julson said.

Soderdahl emphasized the complaint isn’t about Iowa City’s ability to support two swim clubs. He simply wants to ensure the UI follows its own protocol.

“All of the swim clubs in town should be on an even playing field, and the Eels are concerned that the Flyers are putting a monopoly on the local industry,” Soderdahl said. “We want to make sure they engage with the community first and gain mainstream approval.”

But Julson said he does not think the Flyers are violating the policy, noting they have already spoken with community members, the Eels’ Board of Directors, and gained approval from the UI Competition Committee to start their club. He cited the 50 Flyers swimmers who are new to the sport as a sign of Iowa City’s need for a second competitive swim club.

If the committee chooses to deny the Eels’ complaint, the two teams will compete in a swim meet this spring.


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