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Parents of canceled Hawkeye sports: “If this is a money problem, why not fight it with money?”

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL)- The Big Ten football season is officially back on, but the University of Iowa will not revisit the four sports programs it cut last month.

While the return of the fall football season will bring in some revenue, Athletic Director Garry Barta said it is not enough.

"With no fans, we don't have ticket revenue, we don't have the donations that go with the seats, and we will have decreased revenue in all other categories," he said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. "It will be better but far from relief."

Officials said the elimination of men's and women's swimming and diving, men's tennis, and men's gymnastics were the results of the economic havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Barta said the athletics department is currently facing a 65 to 70 million dollar budget deficit.

Since officials announced the cuts on August 21, parents asked why the Athletic's department's first move was to cut four sports instead of salary reductions, which came later.

"The reactive decision to cut four sports as the first move to manage a crisis like the pandemic seems unsavory at best, ludicrous at worst," Mark Kaufman said. "It should be the last thing that is considered, not the first."

Kaufman's daughter Christina is a sophomore on the swim and dive team. He said the university has been less than transparent with the student-athletes.

"They have turned over our kids and coaches lives without notice," he said.

Kaufman said his daughter and her teammates are still shell shocked, but they are getting through it.

"They are pulling together as kids and athletes do," he said. "The beautiful part of athletics comes to the top in situations like this."

In the wake of the decision, Kaufman and other parents, including former Hawkeye football captain Matt Purdy launched the 'Save the Sports' movement.

They hoped to start a dialogue with university officials, but so far they have not been receptive.

"There is an opportunity here to do the thing that is obvious to all of us, and that is reinstate and reverse and provide a discussion for what this model could look like," he said. "I don't know why the decisions that were made and why can't back off, hit pause, and find some ways to go forward."

On Wednesday afternoon, Purdy posted a screenshot of an email he says is from a senior University of Iowa official.

In it, the official wrote, "we are in the midst of a financial crisis in Hawkeye Athletics that requires closure of these sports to cover the interest and principal on significant loans."

Something Purdy said he took personally.

"As a parent, as an alumnus, it is hard to think that a dollar sign has been put on my 19-year-old son's back," Purdy said. "I am still contributing $25,000 a year to that University. So the University of Iowa has essentially put a $15,000 bounty on my son's head."

In the four eliminated sports, most athletes who are on scholarship are on partial ones. Barta has promised all scholarships will be honored as long as the students stay at Iowa.

Parents of four sports teams have been talking with donors and alumni to drum up support.

Purdy said he wishes the university would do the same.

"If the university had enough compassion for these student-athletes, you would reach out to the greater good," he said. "Why not make that outcry and see if we can fix it."

Purdy suggested a day of giving, something other schools have done to make up for lost revenue.

"I would suspect if you reached out to the Hawkeye nation, we have 24 sports that are in serious need of help, I would bet there is a pretty good push that comes from that group," he said.

Despite the decision from the university, the parents said they would continue fighting. In addition to shoring up support, they are also examining the athletic budget and looking into potential title IX violations by the university.

Purdy said he and his are now left questioning their allegiance to the university he has always been proud to represent.

"My son picked Iowa because of its academics and greatness in swimming, and he desperately wants to become a graduate of this university. But in the long run, is this doesn't get fixed, he will leave," Purdy said. "It is disheartening to think that in May, I'll move him off that campus and I will realistically never come back because of my negative feelings right now."

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Daniel Perreault

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