While college football fans across the country were enjoying the typical Saturday traditions this past weekend, there was controversy outside Kent State's stadium prior to kickoff that sparked outrage, as a field hockey game heading into double overtime came to a screeching halt because of daytime fireworks planned before Kent State's noon football game against Kennesaw State.
At a nearby field, Temple and No. 24 Maine were scoreless and heading into double overtime when Kent State officials entered the field and informed the coaches the game had to end because of the fire marshal regulations for the fireworks.
The teams complied, and the NCAA deemed it a scrimmage.
"I think it's just where we're at with female sports," first-year Temple coach Susan Ciufo said. "As much as we have come a long way, there's still a long way to go. Saturday is the perfect example. To kick off two Division I teams when they're about to go into double overtime for fireworks is just, it's beyond me. I think it's a disgrace to both programs, the families and the schools. I wish there was some better decision-making throughout the process in recognizing what this could mean in the bigger picture moving forward."
On Saturday, Maine released the following statement on behalf of athletic director Ken Ralph:
"Prior to the contest we were made aware of timing issues regarding pre-game football activities. While we would have greatly appreciated the opportunity to play the final 10 minutes of our contest, the KSU administration made the decision they felt was most appropriate."
The National Field Hockey Coaches Association called the decision of Kent State officials "unacceptable" and "a terrible message being communicated to female student-athletes in this year of 2019." According to a statement from the NFHCA, both programs were informed of the 10:30 a.m. stoppage time in an email that was sent in May, but Kent State "failed to communicate the steps that would be taken should the 10:30 a.m. hard stop be reached."
"The NFHCA Office has reviewed the game contract and cannot find any reference to the 10:30 a.m. hard stop nor can we find any information regarding what would happen if the game was not completed prior to reaching the 'drop dead' time," NFHCA president Andy Whitcomb and executive director Jenn Goodrich wrote in a prepared statement. "While we are aware of the fact that Kent State officials offered to complete the game at 5:30 p.m. and pay hotel costs for the Temple team, we find their lack of preparedness and the timing of their response to be unacceptable."
"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 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 pre-game football festivities. We see this as a terrible message being communicated to female student-athletes in this year of 2019. This decision was extremely damaging not only for the participating athletes, their coaches, and their families but for all female student-athletes."
Temple was 2-16 last season, and Ciufo was hired to turn the program around in January. She has already led the team to its first consecutive shutouts to start a season since 2008. The Owls were in position to beat their first ranked opponent since 2016.
"It would've been a good statement for us to make moving forward," she said. "... It would've helped with our confidence because we're still in that period where they're transitioning from a team that was 2-16 last year to recognizing this year that they can do it. It was a bummer that this was considered not to count when they fought so hard for 70 minutes."
On Monday, Kent State issued a statement from athletic director Joel Nielsen that read, "On behalf of the Kent State University Athletic Department, I would like to apologize to the University of Maine and Temple University for the decisions made surrounding the Field Hockey contest this weekend. 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.
"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. Also, we let down the field hockey community and its supporters as a whole. ... We will take this opportunity to learn from our mistakes. I can assure you that we have already reviewed and altered our procedures to see that no student-athletes are faced with this situation in the future."
According to a Temple spokesperson, there are no plans to try to finish the game, given that it was a nonconference game and the teams are not close geographically. As for Kent State's offer to resume the game at 5:30 p.m., Ciufo said "it wasn't really possible."
"Our bus driver couldn't stay ... it really was ridiculous," she said. "I don't know if they actually thought that was something we could do -- pause our game for seven hours for 10 minutes -- which even the suggestion itself was a complete disrespect to our sport, but it kind of blew my mind that they even suggested that."
Maine coach Josette Babineau is entering her 13th season as head coach of the Black Bears and said she has never experienced anything like that.
"You can see it in all your players' faces when a game ends that they have given everything that they can for each other, for the outcome to represent their school and their program, and as I'm looking at them after the game, I'm seeing that in their faces, but I'm also seeing more than that," she said. "Now I'm seeing tears, and emotions that's coming out of them, and disappointment.
"I want our players to know that their efforts and everything that they do, their training and hours of dedication and talent, that everything they do, it matters, because I think that's what was maybe lacking this weekend," she added. "I felt like in our team, after the game on Saturday and on Sunday maybe there was this feeling of what are we doing and does it matter? That's very sad."
The Kent State football team eventually beat Kennesaw State, 26-23 in overtime. The Kent State field hockey team beat Maine 2-1 on Sunday morning.