Women’s cross country and track and field coach resigns after investigation

Photo courtesy of UMD Athletics

Photo courtesy of UMD Athletics

Joanna Warmington, head coach of UMD women’s track and field and cross country, has resigned following reports of sexual misconduct towards student-athletes.

In her statement August 20, Warmington says on March 28 she was put on a leave of absence that she said was “under the pretext that there were complaints by student athletes regarding my coaching behavior.”

She also said that she repeatedly asked for a copy of the complaints, but didn’t receive them until June 20, which was after she was interviewed for the investigation.

Earlier in August, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action completed their investigation.

The Duluth News Tribune received a copy of the report and that the EOAA, “concluded that Ms. Warmington’s conduct was unwelcome because it was unsolicited, made multiple student-athletes feel uncomfortable, and taken together, created an unwelcome sexualized environment in which some student-athletes felt compelled to tolerate unwanted conduct of a sexual nature in order to maintain a positive relationship with their coach.”

In her statement, Warmington stated that she is in contact with nationally recognized law firms. She alleges that there are a variety of NCAA violations, as well as violations of Title IX against UMD.

Warmington also said that during the investigation, “it became clear that UMD was coordinating an effort through my supervisor, the Men’s Head Coach for Cross Country and Track and Field, and our shared assistant coaches (all males) to remove me from my position as Head Coach.”

Madison Biebel (left) and Nicole Schneider (right) run hurdles during a meet in Winona. Photo courtesy of UMD Athletics.

Madison Biebel (left) and Nicole Schneider (right) run hurdles during a meet in Winona. Photo courtesy of UMD Athletics.

She also said that the coaches and student-athletes accessed her personal files through her electronic devices to help strengthen their allegations against her.

Warmington also cited a lack of due process throughout the investigation. She said that 15 of the 32 witnesses did not sign statements, confirming that the information they gave was correct. Most of the evidence for violations were because there was more than one witness who said it was true. UMD did no further analysis of the statements made by the witnesses.

Warmington believes UMD took it’s time with the process to “capitalize on the highly-rated recruiting class that has arrived on campus.” The athletes now have to redshirt – sit out their freshman season in order to retain that eligibility – or transfer, instead of then having the option to decommit and go to a different school.

Later in the statement, Warmington sited two examples of UMD coordinating her termination.

The first involved an athlete who was injured before the season and hired their own personal trainer. The athlete then wanted to compete as a UMD athlete in the spring, a violation of NCAA rules.

Warmington said, “the athletic administration had already preselected the student athlete as the female senior athlete of the year, they wanted to cite her career-long success as part of its marketing and publicity campaign. As a result, after a joint decision amongst training staff and my supervisor to allow the athlete to compete independently was delivered by me, UMD athletic administration reversed course and required me to revoke the joint decision.”

The second instance she said was when Athletic Director Josh Berlo let her know that the school was terminating her contract.

Bariture Igbah placed third in the weight toss at the 2018 Maverick Invitational in Mankato. Photo courtesy of UMD Athletics.

Bariture Igbah placed third in the weight toss at the 2018 Maverick Invitational in Mankato. Photo courtesy of UMD Athletics.

“Berlo provided to me this past Saturday indicating that the University would be terminating my employment, but that it would keep the contents of the investigation secret if I agreed to release the University from all claims,” Warmington said in her statement.

Following former women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller’s verdict, Warmington wrote a “Local View” op-ed for the News Tribune supporting Berlo and UMD Administration.

In her statement, Warmington shared a different version of that story.

“I was intimidated while standing in front of other employees and felt I must comply. I was gravely concerned that my student athletes would lose their ability to compete if my program would have to be cut in order to fund the cost of the jury verdict, and I would also lose the job that I love.”

According to the News Tribune, “Miller, Wiles, the school’s former women’s basketball coach, and Banford, the ex-softball coach, have a separate lawsuit pending against UMD on the grounds of sexual-orientation discrimination.”

Lynne Williams, the University Marketing and Public Relations Director for UMD, released a statement following Warmington’s decision.

“The details of the investigation remain private data. However, we can say that complaints were made to the University, and a thorough investigation was conducted by an outside law firm.  With respect to the other concerns included in her letter, UMD remains strongly committed to providing athletic programs of excellence in compliance with all Title IX and NCAA requirements. We respect the rights of all concerned in this situation. Therefore, we are not in a position to comment further.  UMD Athletics will undertake a search for Warmington's replacement immediately and are exploring options to bring in someone to guide the program until the search is completed.”

During her tenure as head coach, Warmington had national success. In seven of her eight seasons, UMD qualified for the Division II Cross Country Championship. In 2014 they placed third, the best finish in program history. They also racked up Central Region champions in 2013 and 2014, along with Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championships in 2013 and 2015. The track team captured the NSIC indoor championship in 2014.

NewsVincent Harvieux