The response from Iowa fans after former football players made allegations about the culture of the program
Most Iowa fans and stakeholders appeared to be overwhelmingly in favor of an independent investigation and often, personnel changes
“To be blunt, our office is swamped with requests; at the moment, we have over 100 pending requests, and many of the requests are for emails/communications regarding athletics or COVID-19 related issues.”
That was a line from an email I received in September from a University of Iowa transparency officer, who listed the public records requests I had submitted since the end of last winter and who asked that I let the office know if any of those requests were no longer of interest.
The oldest outstanding request, which I had sent Feb. 27, 2020 and which requested emails regarding COVID-19, had already been stuck in the system for roughly seven months at that point. The transparency officer explained that it’s a two-person office and with limited staff resources, there was a backlog. You’re taught in journalism school to never make the story about yourself, but sometimes the reporting process can become the story, or at least part of it.
Among the requests that the transparency officer had asked me to review, two of the earliest requests I had filed were about the allegations of racism and mistreatment within Iowa’s football program, which surfaced over the summer. In short, many former Iowa football players, most of whom are Black, alleged that the culture of the program didn’t allow them to be themselves or to feel as supported as their white teammates.
In the words of one former player, Chicago Bears offensive lineman James Daniels, “There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.”
This story is about the feedback that Iowa fans and stakeholders, in the wake of the allegations, gave to Athletic Director Gary Barta, football coach Kirk Ferentz, who’s the longest-tenured head coach in the FBS after being hired in December 1998, and former head strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, the latter of whom was the subject of many of the allegations and who signed a separation agreement with the university over the summer.
But there are also other branches of this story that are worth exploring, such as how universities can benefit from an inefficient public records office – whether or not those inefficiencies are intentional – as well as how Iowa’s athletic department was involved in yet another settlement, incident, or series of allegations regarding diversity and inclusion, or athlete well-being. The department’s longtime athletic director, Barta, has since become the face of the College Football Playoff selection committee while serving as the committee’s chair for the 2020 college football season.
How it all started
Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, Ferentz shared a statement with the team on June 1 about his hope that the players could grow individually and collectively by listening to, and understanding each other, better. The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, reported that in the days that followed, more than 50 former Iowa football players alleged on social media that they had witnessed or experienced racism or bullying within the program, with Daniels, the current Bears lineman, sending the first tweet on June 3 that suggested the need for cultural changes within the program.
Like so many conversations about race in America in the last half-decade – conversations that have had a starting point of police officers killing Black Americans, conversations that have highlighted systemic racial inequities in the U.S. and conversations that have reached living rooms across the country, then reached their crescendo, through the sport of football – the discussion and allegations about the culture of the Iowa football program started with the idea of kneeling, or not kneeling, for the national anthem.
Scott Dochterman @ScottDochtermanKirk Ferentz says he wants his team to take a uniform position this fall where either they all stand at attention or they all kneel.
Former Iowa linebacker Laron Taylor was reportedly the first current or former player in June to mention the alleged behavior of Doyle on social media. Most of the former players who made allegations about the culture of Iowa’s football program are Black, according to The Gazette.
Iowa announced that Doyle was placed on administrative leave on Saturday, June 6, and on the following Monday morning, June 8, athletic department administrative assistant Marjorie Meisner sent Barta and Deputy Director of Athletics/Senior Women’s Administrator Barbara Burke a copy of a form that Meisner said Iowa athletes would have signed after attending a session with former Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe in April 2019, according to an email obtained by Out of Bounds. Beebe, who also previously served as the commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference and as the NCAA’s Director of Enforcement, has since “formed the Dan Beebe Group to assist institutions identify, prevent and respond to human relations risks,” according to his professional profile.
Another attachment in the email Meisner sent to Barta and Burke was a list of resources that detailed how students can report HR risks, which was also dated from the spring of 2019. Iowa’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion later told investigators from the Kansas City-based law firm Husch Blackwell that all faculty and staff members who are employed at least half-time are required to receive diversity and equity training once every three years, and that Iowa coaches and athletes receive annual training from Beebe.
“I thought you should have these documents too,” Meisner wrote in her email to Barta and Burke.
The next day, Tuesday, June 9 – six days after the first social media post from a former player about the culture of Iowa’s football program – Barta sent a memo to University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Director of Equal Opportunity & Diversity/Deputy Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Modestou that requested an external review of Iowa’s football program, according to an email obtained by Out of Bounds.
“Please let me know if we have your permission to proceed,” Barta wrote.
Just over an hour later, Modestou responded, offering her support for the review. Barta and Vice President for Legal Affairs/General Counsel Carroll Reasoner began reviewing outside firms that day.
Former University of Iowa Executive Vice President and Provost Montse Fuentes responded to Modestou, the director of Equal Opportunity & Diversity, just six minutes after Modestou supported Barta’s request, with Fuentes writing, “I am certainly supportive of the proposal, I just wanted to make sure you did not have concerns, since it will not go directly through your office. Knowing you are supportive is all I need. While making sure you are involved as the work progresses.”
The morning after Iowa announced it had reached a separation agreement with Doyle, Iowa announced Fuentes had been reassigned to special assistant to the president, after she had spent just one year as Iowa’s provost. The Gazette reported that after Fuentes was named one of three finalists for Kent State University’s senior president and provost vacancy, she said during a public presentation held in October for the Kent State community, “I’m looking for the opportunity to have complete alignment with my core values – my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Some of Fuentes’s other comments during the presentation included, “I’m very excited about the prospect of joining Kent State, where I feel like there is complete alignment with those values,” and that Kent State “is an institution that puts the students first,” according to The Gazette.
In December, Fuentes was named the president of St. Edward’s University in Texas.
The University of Iowa ultimately selected Husch Blackwell to conduct the review of its football program. After a 10-percent courtesy discount, the university paid the firm $78,891.30 after Husch Blackwell conducted more than 118 hours of interviews with current and former players and staff members as part of an external review process that took more than 287 hours in total.
In one heavily redacted email obtained by Out of Bounds, an emailer who described himself as “a proud Hawkeye” noted how his interactions with what was presumably a reference to the Iowa football program or its staff – although it’s unclear because the rest of the paragraph is redacted – included “attending camps and being recruited in high school.” He told Barta he was contacting him because “I believe in my heart that I must do so because it is the right thing to do.” The emailer said he was available to be contacted during the investigation, specifically regarding the allegations against Doyle.
“I am here to support the University of Iowa and the Hawkeye Football Program to pave the way to change,” he wrote.
Barta responded the next morning, saying he would include the emailer’s name “as someone the outside investigation group might interview.”
The findings in Husch Blackwell’s final, 28-page report included:
Yet numerous players described feeling unhappy and unwelcome, citing to a program culture that they perceive requires strict conformity and rigid adherence to the “mold” of an ideal player, a mold that many Black players felt they could never truly fit because it was built around the stereotype of a clean-cut, White athlete from a midwestern background. Additionally, numerous current and former players and coaches of all races described an environment in which a small number of coaches felt empowered to bully and demean athletes, especially Black athletes.
In sum, the program’s rules perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity. The program over-monitored players to the point that they experienced heightened anxiety and maintained a culture that allowed a small group of coaches to demean players.
Here’s how Iowa fans responded in the days after the allegations
It’s now January, and the 2020 college football season only has one game remaining, the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night.
The initial allegations made against the Iowa football program’s culture last summer are more than seven months in the rearview mirror, and now, the Hawkeyes can enter the offseason selling their No. 15 ranking in the final College Football Playoff rankings after they won their final six games.
The machine rarely stops, and it rarely looks back.
Doyle, who was formerly the highest-paid strength coach in the country with an annual salary of $800,000, signed a separation agreement with the university in June, the terms of which have since made him the recipient of a year and three months’ worth of salary, or roughly $1.1 million, which the two sides agreed would be paid in a pair of equal lump sums. It was agreed he would receive the second of the two payments by Jan. 1, 2021.
You can read about the details of former Wichita State men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall’s separation agreement, which was signed in November, if you’re curious about the type of language that can be used in a separation agreement. Both men will receive seven figures as part of their respective separation agreements, despite the severity and the sheer volume of the allegations leveled against them.
“Numerous players expressed their hope that the changes will be permanent and remain in place ‘after the headlines go away,’” Husch Blackwell’s report stated, after the report noted that the program had relaxed its rules regarding social media, hats, hair and earrings. “One current player said, ‘this is a big deal and they need to keep moving forward.’ Several players expressed their opinion that Head Coach Ferentz is open to listening and has been talking to the leadership group about these issues. Others expressed skepticism and cautioned that it is hard to truly change culture and that for change to be permanent, it must come from Head Coach Ferentz and go ‘down the line.’
“Numerous players expressed their opinion that problems within the program are more widespread than just one coach and simply removing one coach will not fix the underlying problems. Other players worried that the changes are not genuine, and the coaches are ‘just covering their tracks.’”
Public records requests are one of the few tools capable of providing further inspection and analysis, even if they’re fulfilled more than half a year – or a full football season – after they were submitted.
One public records request filed by Out of Bounds asked for a copy of any emails sent to or from Barta, Ferentz or Doyle in the days after Doyle was placed on administrative leave on June 6.
Roughly 75 percent of the emails obtained by Out of Bounds that were sent by Iowa stakeholders to Barta, Ferentz or Doyle backed the current and former Iowa football players who made the allegations against the program’s culture or specific members of the staff. Those emailers asked for some kind of strong action to be taken in response to the allegations – at a minimum, a thorough, independent investigation into the program and at most, the emails called for multiple coaches to be fired, including Ferentz.
Here’s the breakdown of the emails sent by Iowa fans and stakeholders:
25 emails called for the firing of some combination of Doyle, Ferentz, and/or Ferentz’s son, Brian, who’s the team’s offensive coordinator; and/or, a thorough investigation into the program or the athletic department; or, the hiring of more football coaches and staff members of color. “I’m physically hurt,” wrote one emailer after reading the allegations.
Eight emails offered support for some combination of Doyle, Ferentz and/or the status quo of the football program.
One email called for the removal of Iowa’s statue of Nile Kinnick, the winner of the 1939 Heisman Trophy who died during a training flight during World War II. Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium is named after him. “But for a structure that’s been rocked by allegations of racism,” the emailer wrote, “[having] a statue solely of a white male out front doesn’t inspire anyone’s confidence. And who are the other individuals honored with statues? Hayden Fry and Dan Gable. Deserving no doubt, but more white males. For a department that wants to deflect complaints of sexism and racism, its artistic rhetoric doesn’t offer any good rebuttal.”
There were two other emails where it was unclear who or what the emailers supported. One of the two emails suggested Barta “take a good look at Kirk” and offered, “I think Kirk has chosen a scapegoat to save his son’s job,” but the emailer also wrote, “I don’t feel any of this is egregious and don’t think anyone should be terminated.”
Those who supported Doyle
While the overwhelming majority of the emails obtained by Out of Bounds expressed the desire among Iowa fans for the athletic department to make personnel changes based upon the allegations – or at the very least, for there to be an external investigation into the accusations, which could then potentially lead to personnel changes – there were some Iowa fans who took the side of Doyle.
One former Iowa football player characterized the allegations as “Twitter comments.” Someone who had previously worked with Doyle, Ferentz and Barta wrote an email to the three men and described the allegations as “cheap criticism you are currently receiving in the press.”
A professor at the university appeared to place the source of the players’ allegations on their upbringing or their hometowns, as he wrote to Kirk Ferentz, “These kids come to Iowa from racist environments.”
George Nickelsburg, a professor emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, who noted in his email that he had spent 31 years as a faculty member, wrote to Ferentz on the Monday afternoon after Doyle was placed on administrative leave.
“How could KF coach the FB team for 21 years and be clueless about the racism we are hearing about?” Nickelsburg wrote. “Maybe it’s more plausible [than] one supposes.
“These kids come to Iowa from racist environments, and what they experience has some of the same elements. So why talk (except among us A-A) about what is much the same? So they expect [to] find things to be the same. One needs context before one judges.”
Another University of Iowa employee compared the perceived rigors of the school’s football program to serving in one of the branches of the armed forces, in the sense that it’s not for everyone.
“The ‘Iowa Way’ was a thing that many of us Iowa fans were/are proud of…no NCAA violations, a very short fuse for misbehaviors and work ethic that was second to none,” Steve Eliason, a research lab manager at the University of Iowa’s Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, wrote to Barta. “However, I can understand how this way would be hard for many players/persons to adapt to…just like the Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine way is hard to adapt to for many.”
“The Iowa Way” received its own mention in the table of contents of Husch Blackwell’s report, right after “Football Program Racial Climate.” Among the player comments that Husch Blackwell gathered about the meaning of the Iowa Way were “fly under the radar and don’t be flashy,” “a way to conform and be ‘normal,’” and “do not speak up about things.”
Eliason concluded his email to Barta with, “Lastly, my support for Iowa Football begins and ends with Coach Ferentz and any attempts from outside groups or even members of the University of Iowa to end the Ferentz era ‘not on his own terms’ will also terminate my support for Iowa football.”
One Iowa alum who has been a season ticket holder for nearly four decades wrote in an email to Barta, “If racism is learned, it can be unlearned.”
Another longtime Iowa season ticket holder wrote, “My hope is that you don’t just abandon Coach Doyle, but give him the chance and support to unlearn the … behavior he has been accused of. If I can make the effort to drive all the way from [redacted] to support the Hawkeyes, I hope you can make the effort to help Coach Doyle.”
A former Iowa football player, whose name was redacted, emailed Barta, writing, “I think there are some things that need to be differentiated in all of this, mostly what is perceived as a race issue, and what is just Doyle being a hard ass.”
He continued: “Cutting ties with Coach Doyle over some Twitter comments accomplishes nothing. Giving him a chance to make some changes and grow as a person does.” That was one of three dismissive references in the email to the allegations made on Twitter.
Barta’s response to the former Iowa player included, “These are challenging times. As always, we are committed to making Hawkeye Football the best it can be…in all areas.”
One emailer wrote to Barta and University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, explaining that he’s a 63-year-old white male who was born and raised in Iowa. He made a point to mention in the email that he doesn’t consider himself to be a racist or white supremacist.
“Living in the city where this all began two weeks ago, I can say with some certainty that a small group of people in this country are taking extreme measures that I would think/hope the majority of citizens see as over the top,” he wrote. “The destruction in my city is devastating.”
The fan expressed that he had been a fan of Iowa for 52 years and “was hurt and angry that a player who will pass through the program in 4-5 years is telling me not to be a fan anymore. I would rather he just take his talents to a different wonderful opportunity with another program.”
One of the sections of the Husch Blackwell report was labeled “Retention of Black Players,” which included:
Numerous current and former players said that Black players left the program because they were unable to fit the Iowa “mold” or were uncomfortable being themselves. Other current and former players attributed the retention problems to what one player termed “constant ridicule” and the sense that coaches tried to “run off” players who do not conform to the Iowa Way.
In regards to the allegations about racial inequity, the 63-year-old old white Iowa fan wrote, “I am willing to listen and have those conversations, but both sides must be willing.” He said Iowa has the most stable football program in the country and he concluded his email by saying that Ferentz has his support, offering that with “over 20 years of observation, I can venture a guess as to where Kirk Ferentz’s character lies.”
Doyle received several emails offering support, including one from C.J. Johnson, a former football player at Utah, where Doyle served as a strength coach for one season in 1998 before moving on to Iowa. Johnson is Black.
“If any investigator want to speak with me my number is [redacted],” Johnson wrote. “You NEVER showed any racism or bs towards any of us at Utah in 1998.”
Another supporter of Doyle wrote that he felt he could relate to Doyle’s situation. “I am praying for you and your family there is nothing worse than false allegations, they are almost impossible to disprove,” the emailer wrote.
Doyle responded within roughly an hour or less to those who supported him, replying 37 minutes after Johnson sent an email to him, and 62 minutes after the other supporter reached out to him.
The calls for an external investigation and for coaches to lose their jobs
Almost all of the names of the emailers were redacted by the university, and most of the exceptions are University of Iowa employees.
One of those employees is Doug Kaiser, who works for the University of Iowa’s parking and transportation department. “I personally [am] ashamed to be working for this school now,” Kaiser wrote to Kirk Ferentz on June 6, “but … I won’t be resigning because I can’t afford it. Here’s hoping you and the whole program get cleaned out.”
The last sentence of the email read, “You disgust me.”
Kaiser wasn’t the only Iowa fan or stakeholder to express his or her level of disdain for the program or the coaches who were accused of fostering a program with an alleged racial double standard.
Three of the emails sent to Doyle that were obtained by Out of Bounds – at least two of which were sent by the same sender – were profanity-laced attacks where the sender both self-censored himself or herself, writing “f’ing” before directing an insult at Doyle, only to later spell out the full word in all-caps later in the email, followed by several exclamation points.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” read one of the only printable excerpts from the emails to Doyle. “Instead of listening, you choose to deny.”
While Doyle was ultimately the only Iowa football staffer to leave the program, by choice or by force, in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, the Husch Blackwell report found, “Many current and former players told investigators that three members of the coaching staff abused their power and verbally abused and bullied players.”
Several fans wanted one or both of the Ferentzes – Kirk, the father, and Brian, the son – to be held accountable for the allegations, too. The younger Ferentz was also named in allegations about the culture of the program. The fans who called for Kirk Ferentz to lose his job seemingly did so because the allegations and the alleged culture arose while he was the head coach.
Part of Husch Blackwell’s report stated:
According to several players, issues within the culture were “not just a Chris Doyle problem.” Those players said the culture problems are systemic and cannot be fixed simply by getting rid of one coach. Several former players commented that Coach Doyle should not be a “scapegoat” for the systemic issues in the program.
Several emails from Iowa stakeholders included adjectives like “systemic” and “institutional” when describing the culture that was alleged by current and former players, and that was later outlined in the Husch Blackwell report. The word “scapegoat” also appeared in the emails obtained by Out of Bounds.
“Our head football coach is accountable as well,” wrote one Iowa grad, who had two children graduate from the university and who has a daughter who will be on her way to Iowa City next fall. The Iowa alum wrote that if Kirk Ferentz “played a significant role” in fostering the alleged culture of inequality, then the emailer believed that Ferentz should be relieved of his duties.
“Everyone is accountable,” the emailer wrote. “I know everyone is eager to ‘look forward’ to a new future for Iowa football, but the first step is to find out what happened and take action if necessary.”
One email, which had the subject line “Fire Doyle and Ferentz,” consisted of just two words: “Right now.”
After Doyle was placed on administrative leave, an emailer who signed his or her email as “a very disgusted and disappointed Iowa fan” wrote to Barta, “Unfortunately, I am disgusted that Brian Ferentz wasn’t also put on leave. Several players mentioned Brian specifically for inappropriate comments and actions.”
The emailer continued to Barta, “I understand you do whatever Kirk says but honestly Kirk should be fired too, all of this happened on his watch … It’s time to clean house!”
The email ended with the fan writing, “Everyone expects Doyle to be fired but no one expects Brian Ferentz to be fired,” with the fan implying that the younger Ferentz’s job would be safe because his father is the head coach.
One Iowa alum and season ticket holder wrote to Barta, “I am saddened, but honestly not surprised, to hear that racism is also present in the Hawkeye football program. I believe the number of football players who have come forward to voice their experience of racism during their time at Iowa. I could easily imagine that it is not confined to one program or one individual given [the] apparent pervasiveness of racism in our country’s institutions.”
The Iowa alum concluded with, “I am proud to be a Hawkeye but I will not continue to support a program that is not accountable and welcoming to ALL players.”
Like almost any college football personnel decision, whether it’s a potential hiring or a potential firing, Iowa fans used their financial support to the athletic department as the stick, as in the in the old “the carrot or the stick” idiom, in which the carrot represents a reward and the stick represents a punishment. In other circumstances, financial support can be used as the carrot but the threat to withhold donations or to stop purchasing tickets, especially just months into the pandemic, was used as the stick in this situation.
Several fans wrote to Barta some version of “I won’t support Iowa athletics as long as Chris Doyle is at the university.”
“I’m seriously considering to stop purchasing [sic] football tickets and quit donating to the I-Club,” wrote one Iowa fan, who said the more he or she read about the allegations, the more he or she felt like those running the program are “monsters.”
Another wrote, “I will not be renewing any tickets, or buying single-contest tickets, or making any contributions to the foundation as long as Chris Doyle is employed by the University of Iowa in any capacity.” The Iowa fan noted how Hawkeyes football players were hospitalized in 2011 and some experienced discolored urine after they suffered from rhabdomyolysis, which is the breakdown of muscle tissue that can cause kidney damage.
“And [Doyle] was given a raise,” the emailer wrote.
A different emailer told Barta that he or she will never understand why Doyle remained employed after the 13 Iowa football players were hospitalized in January 2011.
Doyle’s annual salary increased from $277,000 during the 2009-10 fiscal year to $299,160 on July 1, 2011, according to a copy of Doyle’s appointment and salary history that was obtained by Out of Bounds via public records request. It was one of 19 annual pay increases that Doyle received since 1999, when he made $56,000 annually upon being hired, before seeing his starting salary grow to more than 14 times that amount by the time he left the university.
From July 2013 to July 2019, Doyle’s salary increased from $325,000 to $800,000, including an increase of $110,000 after the 2015 season, when Iowa went undefeated in the regular season. That raise followed a $125,000 salary increase from June 30, 2014 to Sept. 2, 2014, which included three different raises – Doyle’s annual increase, but also what was labeled as a $60,000 “market adjustment” and a $39,000 “administrative differential.”
Another emailer wrote, “I do not support, and will not financially support, a football program where these actions are welcome or ignored by administration.”
One emailer, whose daughter chose to attend Iowa, wrote, “As for myself and my husband, we will NOT be supporting the football team. We will not be purchasing season tickets this year like we did last year. We will not be attending any games. We will not be watching them on TV.”
Iowa reported $22.2 million in revenue from football ticket sales during the 2019 fiscal year and $35.4 million in total contributions received from individuals, corporations, associations, foundations and clubs, so the university maintaining its $800,000-a-year head strength and conditioning coach in the face of the allegations could have potentially been costly in other ways, both literally and figuratively.
“I am ashamed to be associated with professionals who conduct themselves with such ignorance,” one emailer wrote.
An Iowa City resident, who said he or she had attended almost every Iowa home football game since the age of five, urged the program to actively hire more coaches of color. “It is vitally important that Iowa takes action to begin changing the shameful hiring disparities that exist within college and professional football,” the emailer wrote to Barta.
Of the 34 employees listed under the “Football” heading on Iowa’s athletic department staff directory, which includes everyone from Kirk Ferentz to strength and conditioning coaches to a pair of secretaries, just six are people of color.
Several emailers noted their race when they contacted Barta, and they explained how that affected the way they reacted to the allegations.
“I’m a 49 year old white man who is appalled but can’t truly relate to what these players feel,” one emailer wrote. “I do want to listen and learn though and own my complicity in the systemic racism that pervades our country and society.”
The emailer empathized with the current and former Iowa football players who had spoken out against the alleged culture of the program by relating the way the players were allegedly treated to experiences he had in his own life, with two sons who have learning disabilities.
“Any idea how demoralizing schools and peers already are to these kids?” the emailer wrote. “Then to have coaches mock them and deride them by using known weaknesses? Those people shouldn’t have jobs that involve young people and students.”
Another emailer, who is Black and who said he has a 21-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter, said that his daughter was considering attending Iowa but “in light of the things that have happened with the football team, we are having her re-think her choice.” The father said he was disturbed by some comments Kirk Ferentz made to the media, which the father said he interpreted as a dismissal of the issues raised by current and former players.
“Please note people all over the country including California are watching how you handle this situation,” the emailer wrote. He wasn’t the only one to note to Barta that people were closely watching how Barta and his department would handle the allegations.
“What the last few weeks have shown is that racial issues are going to be exposed whether you want [them] to or not,” another emailer wrote. “The only question is what side do you want to be on. Make the right decision and support the players who have allowed you to have a long, and well paying job.
“The world is watching you Mr. Barta.”
That statement might have rung more true than the emailer intended when he or she wrote it, as Barta, through his duties as the chair of the playoff selection committee, appeared on ESPN once a week during the home stretch of the college football season to discuss the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
On ESPN, and on the weekly Zoom calls with reporters, Barta was asked about why undefeated Cincinnati dropped in the rankings after an idle week and why Louisiana’s 17-point road win at Iowa State didn’t seem to be taken into account in the rankings. He was asked why teams should even play the games at all, if the results didn’t seem to matter to the selection committee.
While acknowledging the trivial nature of ranking football teams compared to all of the serious, real-world issues of 2020, the football questions asked of Barta this season were tough and they required answers that displayed some level of verbal gymnastics.
But the really tough questions – the ones that address allegations of racism and nepotism, or that address athlete health and well-being, or a seven-figure separation agreement and what that agreement really means – well, those questions are ultimately and largely replaced by questions about wins and losses, or schedules and divisions.
Because once the games kick off, for many within the Football Industrial Complex, the only divisions that seem to matter are the Big Ten East and West, or the SEC East and West, not Black and white, nor six and seven-figure coaches and administrators, and unpaid, amateur athletes.
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.