Tipping the stool

A wealthy man in a dolphin suit (Donny Stalkfleet) was willing to address reporters Friday but Iowa AD Gary Barta was not.

By Todd Brommelkamp/KGYM Radio

As the firestorm of criticism engulfing Gary Barta and the University of Iowa athletics department continues to burn, one thing needs to be made clear.

This is no longer about broadcaster Gary Dolphin.

The affable “voice of the Hawkeyes” is four days into a suspension many fear will lead to a permanent vacation/early retirement.

No, this is about how and why we arrived at this juncture.

And who drove us to the point of no return.

Monday marks the fourth day of a public relations crisis largely of Iowa’s own making.

The not-so-funny thing about all this is we’ve been here before with the same cast of characters.

When Dolphin was slapped with a two-game suspension in late November for comments he made into a hot microphone, the story lingered in the news cycle for days because of how poorly the university handled it. Barta issued a statement on Nov. 28 but declined to speak to reporters until Nov. 30, but not before making comments that further intensified the story by making public what few knew – that there were issues between Dolphin and head coach Fran McCaffery behind the scenes prior to his making comments critical of McCaffery’s recruiting during the 69-68 wing over Pitt that Tuesday.

When Barta did get around to addressing the media and answering questions he chose to do so minutes before the Hawkeyes opened Big Ten play at home against Wisconsin.

Not exactly great timing.

A story that should have dominated the news cycle for a day lingered in the public eye for almost four days because Barta didn’t have his ducks in a row from the moment the suspension was announced.

Sound familiar?

Six hours before Iowa hosted Indiana last Friday, the news broke that Dolphin was suspended again. Iowa had no official comment other than issuing a press release on the heels of one from Learfield Sports Properties announcing the news.

The release from Iowa wasn’t attributed to Barta or anyone in his department.

Word came down Friday that Barta would not be available for questions regarding the suspension. Yet as the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers readied for tip off, there he was taking his regular seat in the first row of media seating. Adjacent to him was University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld, who also was off limits for comments.

Barta ducked out of his seat early, leaving his wife alone to watch the end of regulation and and eventual 76-70 overtime win.

Further muddying the waters, reporters were told prior to McCaffery’s postgame news conference he would only field questions about that night’s game. (I know what you’re thinking. Ask anyway. The odds of McCaffery getting up and walking out in that situation would be north of 75 percent)

That left Iowa’s players, fresh off their 21st victory of the season, to field uncomfortable questions from uncomfortable reporters about and uncomfortable subject. Many fans were displeased at the media for doing so but their anger is misplaced.

This was a mess of Iowa’s own making, amplified by how poorly it was handled from the get go.

Then came Saturday and silence.

Sunday followed with more of the same.

Monday Nick Weig of KGAN reported Iowa did not anticipate making any public comments about Dolphin’s suspension “on camera or otherwise.”

According to an article published by Forbes in 2017 titled “13 Golden Rules of PR Crisis Managment” the first rule of handling something like Iowa has on its hands is “Take Responsibility.”

That’s what Dolphin did via a statement, just as he did last November. Like first time he was put through the ringer, the veteran broadcaster comes off as the only adult in the room.

The second rule is “Be Proactive, Be Transparent, Be Accountable.”

Stee-rike One.

Stee-rike Two.

Stee-rike Three.

Barta kept his job in 2017 despite costing his department $6.5 million in separated discrimination suit settlements with former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and administrator Jane Meyer, who happened to be Griesbaum’s partner.

He remains Iowa’s athletics director because to date his transgressions and missteps have not cost him with the school’s major donors. The money continues to flow in and, for the most part, his programs are successful.

Dolphin is about as popular as anyone associated with the Hawkeyes but Barta is banking on fans’ love for their team extending beyond who is calling the action. It’s a calculated risk but one he seems willing to make.

The only way change comes to the athletic department is if fans start voting with their wallets and donors do the same with their five- and six-figure offerings.

In 2013 Barta rolled out a new slogan for Iowa athletics: Win, Graduate, Do it Right

“We are committed to being among the nation’s best in all three areas,” he said. “Our charge is a three-legged stool. Coming up short in one leg leads to a lack of balance which will cause the stool to tip over and create failure in the other two areas.”

Those words speak for themselves.

And in the wake of Iowa’s current silence they speak volumes.