'Now do MSU next': Pressure mounts as Iowa reinstates women's swimming

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Now, all eyes turn to Michigan State.

The University of Iowa, facing litigation similar to Michigan State, announced Monday night it is reinstating its women's swimming and diving team, which was set for elimination at the end of the season.

Michigan State plans to eliminate men's and women's swimming and diving at season's end.

A federal district court in December granted an injunction that ordered Iowa must continue the program amid the Title IX lawsuit.

“Every student-athlete in all 24 sports at Iowa has experienced challenges and uncertainty since the pandemic began. This has been especially true for the men and women in the four sports we announced would be discontinued after this season,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement Monday night. “The women’s swimming lawsuit brought forward last September, combined with the recent court order mandating the continuation of the sport during the legal process, has created additional uncertainty that could last several months or even years.

"We made the decision the right thing to do was to re-instate the women’s swimming and diving program and remove any uncertainty moving forward for our current student-athletes as well as high school swimmers considering attending the University of Iowa.”

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Michigan State also is facing litigation from 11 current members of the Michigan State women's swimming and diving team, and they also seek an injunction. They filed the lawsuit in federal court in Grand Rapids in January; a hearing was to be held last Wednesday, but a judge has yet to rule

Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman announced in October that the school was cutting men's and women's swimming and diving, for financial and infrastructure reasons. Beekman reiterated earlier this month there are no plans to revive the programs, despite a recent $32 million gift from former basketball player Mat Ishbia.

Advocates for Michigan State swimming have been regulars at the MSU Board of Trustees' monthly meetings since November, and continue to be outspoken.

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"We are very happy to see Iowa reverse course and reinstate the women's team," said former Michigan State swimmer Tom Munley, who's among the leaders of the advocacy group, "Fight for Spartan Swim and Dive." "I know the university there has worked with Save Hawkeye Sports to discuss options and find a path forward. I hope the reinstatement of their men's team will soon follow.

"I wish Michigan State would give us the opportunity to work with them on a solution, but they are still unwilling to do so."

Michigan State has recent found an unlikely ally in the Michigan swimming and diving program, which during the meets with Michigan State last month wore "SAVE MSU SWIM + DIVE" face masks. After the Iowa news Tuesday night, the official Twitter account for Michigan swimming and diving tweeted, "Now do MSU next."

There is precedent locally for a university being forced to reinstate a sport. In 2018, Eastern Michigan cut four sports, but eventually was ordered by a judge to reinstate women's tennis and softball. Instead of bringing back softball, it added women's lacrosse, which a judge found acceptable.

Iowa announced in August it was cutting women's and men's swimming and diving, men's tennis and men's gymnastics, citing a projected budget deficit of $75 million brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only women's swimming has been reinstated.

Michigan State is one of two Division I schools in Michigan to cut a sport amid the pandemic. Central Michigan eliminated men's indoor and outdoor track and field. That decision pushed Central Michigan below the mandated number of men's sports, but the NCAA provided a two-year waiver. At the end of the waiver, Central Michigan is expected to add men's golf.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984