By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For reasons that make absolutely no sense without an explanation, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta has turned a minor incident into a major distraction with his vague and cryptic statement about Gary Dolphin’s two-game suspension.
And maybe an explanation from Barta wouldn’t be enough to explain or justify why he referred to “some ongoing tensions” in his statement as part of the reason Dolphin was suspended for the next two games.
It seems that Barta was determined or strongly influenced by somebody else to let Hawkeye fans know that Dolphin’s suspension wasn’t based on just the negative comments that Dolphin was heard saying during Tuesday’s broadcast of Iowa’s 69-68 victory over Pittsburgh at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Dolphin made critical comments about an Iowa player and about Iowa’s recruiting at the start of what was supposed to be a first-half commercial break. Dolphin didn’t realize the microphone still was turned on and he made a mistake.
Dolphin let his guard down and what he thought was a private conversation between himself and color analyst Bobby Hansen was heard by some of their many listeners.
Iowa had performed poorly in the first half against Pittsburgh, especially on defense where it allowed 46 points by halftime.
Dolphin apparently was frustrated and voiced his frustration, much like a fan would do.
The problem is that Dolphin isn’t your typical fan. He is the long-time voice of the Hawkeyes and with that title comes a certain expectation, responsibility and trust.
Dolphin violated that trust and deserved to be punished for it.
But he didn’t deserve to have the reasons for his suspension open for so much interpretation, speculation and debate.
It doesn’t matter if you think it was fair or necessary to mention the ongoing tensions in the statement, it was put in for a reason, and that reason, whatever it might be, is now a bigger concern and a bigger problem than the remarks that got Dolphin in trouble in the first place.
And that’s a shame because the Iowa men’s basketball team is undefeated, ranked 14th nationally and preparing to face Wisconsin in a much-anticipated Big Ten opener on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and yet, the game has been reduced to sidebar because of Barta’s controversial statement.
For some reason, Barta wanted fans to know that Dolphin’s suspension was caused by more than just his negative comments on the air. Or somebody close to Barta with a tremendous amount of influence wanted fans to know that Dolphin’s suspension was part of an ongoing problem.
Whatever the case, it just seems misguided and petty.
Reaction to news of the two-game suspension, which was handed down by Iowa's radio partner, Learfield Sports Properties, probably would've come and gone by now if Barta hadn't mentioned the ongoing tensions in his statement.
It seems that Dolphin already was on thin ice because why would Barta mention the ongoing tensions when he didn’t have to?
My guess is that Barta was under pressure to mention the ongoing tensions by someone in a position to apply pressure.
But wouldn’t it have made more sense to deal with the ongoing tensions behind the scenes rather than air your dirty laundry in public?
Fans are now left to wonder and speculate about Dolphin’s relationship with certain UI employees, namely Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery.
It is no secret that McCaffery and Dolphin have had some uncomfortable moments on the air, like for example when McCaffery fired back after being asked about former Iowa center Adam Woodbury poking an opposing player in the eye.
The fiery McCaffery resented the topic even being brought up and he let Dolphin know about it.
McCaffery also resented what Dolphin said on the air on Tuesday, and rightfully so, because McCaffery should defend his players under those circumstances.
But to make the suspension about more than just the negative comments seems counter-productive and unfair to Dolphin.
Barta apparently failed to realize that his statement would cause more harm than good under the circumstances.
Or maybe he did realize that it would cause harm, but he didn’t care.
Either way, it’s not a good look for a leader because a leader is supposed to fix things, or at least, keep them from getting worse, but Barta has done neither in this case.
And when you combine that with his handling of the discrimination lawsuits involving Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum that recently cost the University of Iowa approximately $6.5 million as part of a settlment, Barta's ability to lead certainly deserves some scrutiny.
I’ve had several fans reach out to me and ask if this is Barta’s way of reminding Dolphin who is in control, while others have said that Barta must want to change broadcasters.
Whether any of that is true or not, just the fact that fans are asking is a problem.
Barta’s statement has turned Dolphin into a sympathetic figure with fans who now feel that Dolphin is being treated unfairly.
Gary Dolphin has poured his heart and soul into being Iowa’s play-by-play announcer for over 20 years. He is the eyes and the voice for thousands of fans who rely on him to paint a picture.
He doesn’t always paint the most accurate picture, but the good far outweighs the bad where Gary Dolphin is concerned.
He overcame prostate cancer and barely let the effects from treatment interfere with his job.
Barta also was diagnosed with prostate cancer, so he knows first-hand how difficult it is to stay the course.
My hope is that cooler heads eventually will prevail, and that the ongoing tensions will be addressed behind the scenes in a fair and professional manner.
Barta has to step up and be a leader rather than an instigator.
Unfortunately, his statement was a failure to lead.