IOWA CITY, Ia. — A top University of Iowa athletics administrator and the college's recently fired women's field hockey coach say they've been in a long-standing relationship that they weren't required to disclose to athletic director Gary Barta.
The relationship between senior associate athletics director Jane Meyer and coach Tracey Griesbaum has come under scrutiny following Griesbaum's firing in August over allegations of player mistreatment. At least one parent of a former player and one professor have claimed that the couple's relationship created the perception that complaints about Griesbaum's coaching would be ignored.
"There were obvious times in athletics when their relationship created an appearance of unfairness and inequity," said Iowa education professor Elizabeth Altmaier, who advocated on behalf of players and parents upset with Griesbaum. "A parent said to me, 'We know that the reason that Tracey is not being confronted about her behavior is because of her relationship with Jane.'"
Griesbaum and Meyer denied that their decade-long relationship — they live together but aren't married — created any conflict. They say they weren't required to disclose or take steps to manage the relationship because Griesbaum didn't report to Meyer, who had long been the department's No. 2 official until an August reorganization.
"Jane and I did our due diligence years ago," Griesbaum said.
She called herself a private person, adding that there's an expectation in college athletics to keep same-sex relationships quiet for public relations reasons. Any claim that the relationship was problematic now that it's open is "an attempt to turn that privacy on them," said Griesbaum's attorney, Tom Newkirk.
"I didn't have any need to" tell Barta, Meyer added. "I conduct myself professionally in the workplace."
Barta had no immediate comment Thursday.
Barta asked investigators to look into the relationship in May after receiving a parent's complaint, which included allegations that Griesbaum harassed some players. The Aug. 1 report didn't mention Meyer by name or any details. It found simply "that there was no prohibited relationship between Griesbaum and an athletics' administrator." The report raised concerns about the team environment, and Barta fired Griesbaum.
Griesbaum is planning legal action against the university, contending that Barta discriminated against her and other gay female coaches. Barta has rejected discrimination claims, noting that Griesbaum was an at-will employee and paid her contractually required $200,000 buyout.
University policy requires employees to "disclose and manage any real or reasonably perceived conflicts of interest" to ensure fair treatment of everyone. The policy says such conflicts arise when employees have decision-making responsibility over subordinates with whom they're in relationships or when "there is a direct reporting line" between them.
Meyer is the university's Senior Woman Administrator, charged with ensuring female athletes and sports are treated fairly. She also oversees athletics facilities construction and training, strength and conditioning.
Meyer said she met with human resources officials years ago and explained she was in a relationship with an employee not in her direct reporting chain, and was advised that didn't require a management plan to prevent conflicts. She said she has stayed out of issues that affected Griesbaum's contracts, discipline or players.
"I didn't make decisions on her program, other than on an occasional basis," she said.
But Altmaier said that the relationship gave Griesbaum access to Barta to respond to players' allegations, while those complaining went to a lower-level administrator. Altmaier, the former faculty representative to athletics, alleged that Barta "failed to confront Tracey for clearly documented abusive behaviors."
"I have to believe that one of the reasons for that is the fear of being called homophobic," Altmaier said.