July 25, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta intends to balance tradition while adding new twists a year after the Hawkeyes turned in one of their most successful seasons in recent memory.
Barta addressed a group of 21 media members July 25 in the Hadley Club Room inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. After delivering a 20-minute “state of the department” report, Barta spent nearly 30 minutes answering 17 questions from local, regional, and national media.
“Over the summer I would get some of you asking to talk about this and talk about that,” Barta said. “I have not done this before, but I was happy to give it a shot. I observe daily and evaluate annually, so summer is sort of that `evaluate annually’ time period.”
In 2013-14, the University of Iowa was one of four NCAA Division I programs to finish in the top 25 in attendance for football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball (including No. 1 in wrestling attendance); it was one of seven to play in a January football bowl game, and the NCAA Tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball. The UI graduated 88 percent of its student-athletes — an all-time high — and raised a record $28 million.
“I really do think this is one of the better years we have had in a long time if you evaluate it from a total athletic department perspective,” Barta said.
Barta flashed back to his days as a collegiate football player. When he would leave the weight room at North Dakota State University, above the door was a sign that read: Your competition got better today, did you?
“The reminder there is no matter what good things occurred last year, if we aren’t getting better we’re going to be in big trouble, because that’s the nature of athletics and that’s the nature of competitors,” Barta said.
“We’re trying to balance tradition with trying some new things. You’re going to see new traditions, new songs. We’re not going to throw everything out and start over, but the goal is to continue to amp up the fun and move the fun meter a little bit.”
UI director of athletics
“What are we doing on our summer vacation? We’re busy hiring, we’re busy with facilities,” Barta said.
The most obvious facilities project is that the Hawkeye football program is expected to transition into its new operations center around the first bye week of the season (Sept. 28-Oct. 4).
“We have exactly what we want,” Barta said. “We designed it, (head football coach) Kirk (Ferentz) was involved in every step, I was involved in every step, and I’ll put our facilities up against anybody in the country. They are efficient, will look very nice, and we didn’t try to spend the most — that wasn’t our goal — and as you all know, no tax dollars, no university funds (we used); great credit to our fans. It is a $55 million total project and all of it was fund-raised or athletic department money.”
One point Barta stressed is that there are still football tickets remaining for all seven home games, although all suites and club seats are sold out with waiting lists. Last year, 7,300 of 10,000 student tickets were sold and although Barta would love to see all 10,000 tickets used by students, the UI will free those seats to the general public beginning Aug. 1 (students will still be able to purchase tickets after Aug. 1).
“Priority No. 1 is to get the students back,” Barta said. “But I can’t sit here like we did last year hoping the students would fill them and then sitting with more empty seats.”
From Aug. 1 to the beginning of the football season is one of the busiest periods for ticket sales. Last week the UI sold 5,600 single-game tickets.
Going hand-in-hand with ticket sales is game day atmosphere in and around Kinnick Stadium on home football Saturdays. A fresh approach this season by the UI athletics department is allowing the public to weigh in on what music is played during games.
“We’re trying to balance tradition with trying some new things,” Barta said. “You’re going to see new traditions, new songs. We’re not going to throw everything out and start over, but the goal is to continue to amp up the fun and move the fun meter a little bit.”
The Hawkeyes have their first official sporting event Aug. 22 when the women’s soccer team travels to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to play Northern Iowa.