Q&A with Athletics Director Gary Barta

BY DI STAFF | NOVEMBER 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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Coming into his eighth year as the Iowa athletics director, Gary Barta has had a great influence on the expansion of Hawkeye athletics. The Daily Iowan caught up with Barta to discuss graduation rates of student-athletes, coach hirings, and the construction of new athletics facilities.

Daily Iowan: There are some new athletics facilities that are being built or expanded on campus, namely football and baseball. How much does the athletics director have to do with getting those kinds of facilities built?

Gary Barta: It’s sort of a multifaceted answer. There’s a piece of it that has to do with creating a vision, and talking about the need, and figuring out what it’s going to look like, and what it’s going to include. To that part of the question, everyone is involved. You want to know what the coaches need, so you work with the coaches. You want to know what they would like it to look like. You go through that phase.

We went to several places across the country. [Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz]  and I — he was with me many times but not all of them — we went to Penn State, we went to Tennessee, we went to Texas A&M, I can’t even remember all of them. We were looking at other places to see what they had done, and we took all of what we thought were the best ideas that might apply at Iowa, and we came up with what we have now. So there’s certainly coaches’ input that way.

Then you have to figure out what it’s going to cost, how you’re going to pay for it, you have to raise the money. The coaches are involved at some level there, but then it becomes more administrator, athletics director, fundraisers. It’s a pretty complex process, that’s why it takes a couple years to get it pulled together, which is the case here.

DI: With new baseball head coach Rick Heller coming in, how much were these new facilities an incentive to get him to come to Iowa?

Barta: The No. 1 priority is to find the right people. We try to find the best people first, then give them the tools to be successful.

As we were talking with Rick, one of the things we talked about, we need to look at the vision, the future of building a new stadium. We knew we couldn’t pull that off in the short term, so we talked about building that at some point. And I said; “What would it be that would help you the most, the quickest?” And we came up with turfing the infield. It shows progress right away, and it also gives them a place when the weather is inclement in the spring, a place where they know they can get out and practice on more often. Eventually, we’ll grow that vision to a new stadium.

DI: Iowa’s graduation rates of student-athletes have set records lately. How much of your job is keeping those numbers up?

Barta: Obviously, I’m not sitting in the classrooms with the student-athletes, I say that just to create that mental picture — the student-athletes are the ones who have to want to get it done. We have to give them a culture and the resources to get it done.

High graduation rates and the academic focus for student-athletes have always been strong here. My job is to make sure we continue that culture. We hire coaches who believe student-athletes should be just that — athletes who go to class, that they should graduate. That can lead to a much bigger discussion about pay for play, or the one-and-done scenario. At Iowa, we’ve always had a strong culture for student-athletes to graduate, and we take huge pride in that. It doesn’t happen easily. There isn’t a simple formula for that. We expect you to do just as well in school as you compete athletically.

DI: You touched on this a little bit, about pay for play — do you have an opinion you would like to voice on the controversy that’s being talked about everywhere?

Barta: It probably wouldn’t surprise people to hear me say I’m not supportive of [paying student-athletes]. I think that when we recruit a student-athlete, we need to make very clear: “Here’s what we’re going to provide you.” We’re going to provide you with, if it’s a full scholarship, all your school needs, all your room and board needs, here’s what the contract looks like. Really it’s an agreement, a partnership, a contract.

Then you should expect from the university the following things: world-class coaching. Food, making sure all your needs are taken care of. Great academic support. For the most part, that contract, that partnership, has been kept intact especially at Iowa, where graduation rates are high.
At the college level, there’s this sense somehow that student-athletes aren’t getting taken care of. I know what I’m supportive of. Let’s take a look at the scholarship. Are there ways to improve the scholarship? If someone comes here and have a need, they come from a need-based family situation, are there ways we can enhance that? Remember student-athletes are eligible to apply for grant money on top of their scholarships.

If a student comes from a need-based family, we can buy them a winter coat. We can by them clothing each semester. If a student-athlete has a family emergency, and someone in their family becomes ill or dies, we can pay for them to fly back and forth.

Sometimes, we need to do a better job of what student-athletes do receive when they come to Iowa. We’re not the minor leagues for the professional franchises. If you don’t want to go to school, we shouldn’t be your option. If you want to compete at the highest level and earn a degree, we are your option. If you don’t want the second part, if you’re not interested in school, then you shouldn’t come here.

DI: What was the hiring process of Fran McCaffery like? What’s it like finding the best coach you can to compete in arguably the toughest basketball conference around?

Barta: It’s hard to believe that he’s entering his fourth season. It seems like it was just yesterday. But they have to be a proven winner, leader. By the time they get to the University of Iowa, they have to have a track record showing they’ve had success.

In Fran’s case, one of the things I loved about him, he had taken three programs that were at the bottom of their conferences and brought them to the top, to the NCAA Tournament. He had done that three times at three different places, and that told me that he knew how to build a program.

Another thing I learned about him was that his integrity was impeccable. He had no background of cheating or cutting corners, and that’s important to me. I love to hire people who love to be here. He walked into the room, I think I interviewed about eight or 10 coaches, he was the one that was most outgoing and shook my hand and said, “I want to be the next coach at Iowa.” And we just had this great interaction. I could just tell and feel he bought into our culture and program.

DI: Football ticket sales have dipped this year, while men’s basketball ticket sales have soared. What’s it like to see that?

Barta: First of all, in football, our season ticket sales were only down 1 percent. Where we saw our largest dip in attendance was in student sales. We’re going to work as hard as we can to get that back. I love the direction where Kirk’s program is heading. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the upswing. In men’s basketball, it’s been exciting to see the growth and the upswing for the past three years in a row in that ticket base. It looks like we’re already on the verge of selling out a lot of tickets for Big Ten games, and it’s early November.

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