Judge delays depositions for Ferentzes in racial bias case

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz arrives at Kinnick Stadium before an NCAA college football game against Kent State, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa's head football coach, Kirk Ferentz, and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz will not have to spend the team’s bye week answering questions from lawyers for Black former players who say they suffered discrimination, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Helen Adams granted a motion Thursday to quash subpoenas that had asked the longtime Hawkeyes coach and his son to appear for depositions on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20. She said the depositions can be delayed until the football season is over in January, as the Ferentzes and lawyers for the university had requested.

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The ruling came as No. 3 Iowa prepares to host No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium in a matchup of 5-0 teams on Saturday.

Lawyers for seven former players sought to take the depositions as they advance claims of racial discrimination against the university, Brian Ferentz and the team’s former strength and conditioning coach, Chris Doyle. The players' lawsuit is set to go to trial in March 2023.

The former players allege they were demeaned with racial slurs, forced to abandon Black hairstyles, fashion and culture to fit the “Iowa Way” promoted by Kirk Ferentz, held to different standards than white players and retaliated against for speaking out.

The university agreed to pay Doyle $1.1 million as part of a resignation agreement in June 2020, after dozens of former players said on social media that he had bullied and discriminated against them. Doyle has denied the allegations.

An investigation by an outside law firm later found that the program’s rules “perpetuated racial and culture biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity,” and allowed coaches to demean players without consequence. Kirk Ferentz made several changes in response that players have welcomed.

Kirk Ferentz argued in a court filing this week that having to appear in Des Moines or by Zoom for a deposition that could last for several hours on Oct. 20 would be “extremely burdensome,” noting that the bye week is filled with activities.

He said the absence of the head coach and offensive coordinator during practices would be “a tremendous disruption” as Iowa prepares to play at Wisconsin on Oct. 30. He said he would not have enough time to review records and discuss the case with lawyers before giving his testimony.

“I believe that I would lose, at a minimum, three days of attending to my duties of head coach, if I am required to prepare on one day, have my deposition taken on another, and attend the deposition of Brian Ferentz on a third day, which I understand I am entitled to attend as representative,” he wrote.

Brian Ferentz filed a similar declaration with the court.

Lawyers for the ex-players had offered to take Kirk Ferentz’s deposition by Zoom and to postpone Brian Ferentz’s as a compromise, but university lawyers rejected the offer.

The plaintiffs' lawyers argued that they have a right to pursue their claims expeditiously and that “there is simply no privilege that protects football coaches from being deposed during football season.”

“Football coaches are not the only litigants whose jobs require the expenditure of substantial time and energy, and their jobs are no more important than the doctors, CEOs, police chiefs, and directors of government agencies who are called to testify in civil actions on a daily basis,” they wrote.

Adams ruled that the subpoenas issued last month did not give the Ferentzes “reasonable time to prepare," noting their busy schedules and the wide-ranging claims made by the players. She said delaying the depositions for two or three months will harm no one.

The judge also found that the depositions would subject the Ferentzes to “substantial hardship” during the football season. She noted that even Zoom depositions would require substantial preparation time and that their private lawyer was unavailable on those dates.

A different federal judge earlier dismissed Kirk Ferentz as a defendant and narrowed the case's scope.

Former players Aaron Mends, Brandon Simon, Javon Foy, Akrum Wadley, Marcel Joly, Jonathan Parker and Darian Cooper are pursuing claims of discrimination against Brian Ferentz and Doyle. Foy, Mends and Simon are also pursuing claims that the program had a racially hostile environment.