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Iowa, Gary Barta about to face real problems in alleged gender discrimination probe

The University of Iowa athletic department has had a cloud of gender discrimination allegations hanging over its head for the better part of two years now. However, those were just allegations and not legal ones at that.

With the Associate Press reporting on Friday that the feds are engaging in a wide-ranging civil rights investigation things are about to get as real as possible. At the heart of the matters are allegations of unfair treatment of women to that of their male counterparts within the athletic department.

The biggest allegation is that strong female voices within the administration and coaching ranks are often times silenced by firings and/or demotions. Instead of strong leadership and question, Iowa seems to prefer its women to shut up and do as they are told — at least that is what has been alleged since the strange firing of long-tim field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum in August of 2014.

Griesbaum was fired just two weeks before the season amidst allegations of player mistreatment against her. The timing was odd, as were the allegations against her to say the least.

Since then, Griesbaum, one of the most successful field hockey coaches in the country at the time of her firing, had filed a state civil rights complaint against the University of Iowa. All of it after allegations and hopes of internal investigations were exhausted.

“We are at this point because we have exhausted efforts to get the university to investigate and remedy this without a lawsuit,” Newkirk, a Des Moines-based civil rights lawyer, said in an email.

Athletic director Gary Barta has not been fired nor has the university opened an investigation itself to this date. Instead, it chose to let the state justice department handle the investigating for them.

Making matters worse is the fact that Griesbaum’s long-time partner, Jane Meyer, was subsequently demoted from Associate A.D. to a reassigned position within the athletic department.

Former field hockey players and even those on the roster during the 2015 season also filed complaints of Title IX violations against the athletic department in relation to the firing of Griesbaum.

There is also the matter of four other female coaches who were fired over a five-year period prior to Griesbaum’s dismissal — all under curious circumstances. All of them which Meyer alleges were because of strong voices standing up for female athletes within the department.

“I had been raising these issues with Gary Barta for years before, so it was the culmination of things,” Meyer said. “You step back, and if you start looking and connecting some of the dots, it’s very clear that strong women are not welcome in the department.”

Meyer, the top-ranking female within Iowa athletics, raised the issues with Barta and found herself reassigned to the facilities development team in a matter of a few weeks.

“I saw the types and culminations of decisions under Gary Barta that I thought were very negative for our women’s programs, our female student-athletes and our female coaches,” Meyer said at the time. “And I spoke out about it. And when I spoke out, I was reassigned.

“I just wanted to make sure, as I have since the day I was hired, that the decisions we made on a daily basis and from a planning perspective were in the best interest of making sure all student-athletes were in a position to thrive. I don’t believe that culture and environment is what’s happening at the University of Iowa.”

What could Iowa and Barta be facing given this investigation? There could be fines, additions of women’s sports and an increased role for the federal government to play in forcing changes to policies and actions by the athletic department.

It all seems to center around decisions made by Barta, and perhaps the biggest question is if he survives all of this in the end. He’s managed to skate by so far and we’ll see what comes of what could be a laborious and drawn-out process here.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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