With the score locked at 0-0, one overtime wasn’t enough to declare a winner in a field hockey game between No. 24 Maine and Temple. With victory one goal away, both teams geared up for a second extra period.
At least, that’s how things were supposed to go Saturday morning at Kent State, which hosted the game. But in a confounding twist, the contest was cut short by a Kent State official who ordered both squads off the field to accommodate a pregame fireworks display for the Golden Flashes’ football team.
Instead of a second overtime period, the game was abruptly ended and later classified as a scrimmage. Players and coaches from both teams have decried the incident, which in recent days has sparked widespread consternation.
“The fact it happened to a women’s sports team essentially put us back a little bit. I think it’s very unfortunate the decision-making process wasn’t thought out more,” Temple Coach Susan Ciufo told The Washington Post. “I know we’re not a big-revenue sport, but to make young women feel what they did for 70 minutes doesn’t really matter, what are we telling young female athletes about what it means to be an athlete?”
Ciufo said both teams did everything they could to finish the game — even lobbying for an early shootout or shortened second overtime — to no avail. The coach said she felt especially bad for her players, who had nearly seized on a rare opportunity to beat a ranked opponent.
“It’s 2019,” she added. “It’s kind of absurd this happened.”
The University of Maine field hockey Twitter account addressed the situation in a Saturday morning tweet, and senior forward Riley Field expressed her disappointment in a series of tweets of her own. She also posted a video of the fireworks display, which she noted took place at noon — more than an hour after the first overtime concluded.
Critics demanded answers from Kent State Athletic Director Joel Nielsen, who in a statement apologized to players and coaches from both teams. He said Monday the university had “reviewed and altered our procedures to see that no student-athletes are faced with this situation in the future.”
“In hindsight, a different decision should have been made to ultimately ensure the game reached its conclusion. We hold ourselves to a very high standard, and in this situation, we failed,” Nielsen wrote. “I realize that my statement does not undo the negative impact on the student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans who deserved to see their teams compete in a full contest.”
In a statement, the National Field Hockey Coaches Association decried the unpreparedness of Kent State officials, calling the incident “unacceptable” and “extremely damaging.” According to the NFHCA, both Maine and Temple were notified of the cutoff time in a May email, which was necessary to accommodate fire marshal regulations. But, the organization added, “Kent State University failed to communicate the steps that would be taken should the 10:30 a.m. hard stop be reached.”
“While we understand that the fireworks were deemed to be an important part of Kent State University’s Family Weekend festivities which featured the home football contest, we cannot understand why the university would seemingly prioritize a daytime fireworks display over the completion of a Division I Women’s Field Hockey contest,” the NFHCA wrote Monday. “The optics and the messaging to every field hockey program and to every field hockey player are that while they matter, they don’t matter more than pregame football festivities.”
Kent State reportedly offered to resume the game later that day at 5:30 p.m. — seven hours later — but players and coaches from both teams said that was not feasible. It is unlikely the game would be completed at a later date.
Addressing reporters Monday, Field said she assumed the Kent State officials were joking when they instructed players to clear the field Saturday. The shock didn’t set in until later that day, she said, which inspired her to tweet about the issue.
The video of the fireworks was to allow people to see exactly what Kent State had prioritized over their game, she added.
Some have speculated the decision may be a Title IX violation. Maine Coach Josette Babineau said the NCAA had reached out to the team Monday to gather more information.
“It’s brought up a lot of emotions, and first and foremost that’s offensive and upsetting to think that because of your gender your sport is looked at as less,” Field said. “We work as hard as any men’s team. They work extremely hard. We work extremely hard at a Division I level.”
Maine faced off against Kent State’s field hockey team Sunday morning in a game players described as an emotional outing. Clouded by the prior day’s events, Field said she and her teammates had trouble clearing their minds before the game. They lost, 2-1.
“It’s hard to hold your shoulders up when you feel like you’ve just been brushed off or looked at as less than. I felt like a joke,” she said. “I felt they didn’t recognize Division I women’s field hockey is legit. They felt football was more legit than we are.”
Coaches from both teams say they hope Saturday’s ordeal places a spotlight on discrimination in women’s sports. Addressing reporters Monday, Babineau described how much her players fight for their school and each other.
“That part was taken away from them on Saturday, and it left them feeling like their talent, effort and sacrifice may not matter or is not valued,” Babineau said. Speaking to her team, she added: “We need to do everything we can at U-Maine to make sure you never have to feel those feelings again.”