The Office of Compliance, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action at Kent State University in Ohio on Friday announced that its investigation of a situation involving the University of Maine field hockey team did not reveal a Title IX violation or demonstrate gender-related bias.
Kent State investigated the decision to halt the Sept. 7 field hockey game between UMaine and Temple University prior to its completion with the score tied 0-0. A university official stopped the game prior to the second overtime to clear the field for a pregame fireworks display scheduled 90 minutes later for the Kent State football game being held at an adjacent stadium.
Kent State has offered to reimburse the two schools if they want to reschedule the game and play this season.
“We deeply regret the negative impact of the match cancellation upon the Temple University and University of Maine field hockey teams,” Kent State President Todd Diacon said Friday afternoon. “I have reached out to both presidents with the offer to reimburse reasonable and customary costs for their teams to play a makeup match this year, if possible.”
The game at this point is apparently being treated as an exhibition, since neither school has it listed among its results.
UMaine issued a statement late Friday night expressing university officials’ dissatisfaction with the way Kent State handled its Title IX inquiry.
“[We] are disappointed that, according to the summary report, the investigation did not include interviews with the student-athletes who were affected and disrespected by the decisions made on Sept. 7,” the release read. “We appreciate, welcome and encourage the broader discussion of Title IX issues sparked by this incident and the investigation. The University of Maine stands with its student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff, firm in our commitment to equity and support to ensure their success, both in competition and in the classroom.”
Title IX is the 1972 federal legislation that says no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
UMaine did not indicate in its statement whether it will consider trying to schedule a field hockey rematch with Temple.
Diacon said a similar situation occurred at Kent State in 2016, but that the field hockey game was allowed to continue and the football fireworks were canceled.
“The current case involved new and different personnel and has provided an important opportunity to assess and improve our procedures and communication,” he said.
The Sept. 7 game began at 9 a.m. and both schools had been informed in May that they must leave the field by 10:30 due to fire marshal regulations involving the noon fireworks display.
At the time, UMaine Director of Athletics Ken Ralph pointed out that the written contract for the game made no mention of a 10:30 stop and that Kent State failed to communicate what would happen if the game was still in progress at that time.
The game was about to begin the second 10-minute, sudden-death overtime period when the teams were asked to leave the facility. If neither team scored, it would have been decided via a penalty-stroke shootout.
The situation created an outcry on national social media which included several prominent people, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas, voicing disapproval of Kent State’s handling of the situation. Several former Kent State players were also appalled by the situation.
UMaine’s Title IX department filed a complaint with Kent State’s Title IX administrators.
“First and foremost, it is offensive and upsetting to think that because of your gender, your sport is looked upon as less. We work just as hard as the men’s teams,” UMaine senior Riley Field said at a press conference held in Orono.
Kent State athletic director Joel Nielsen previously admitted that his staff had not properly handled the situation.
“A different decision should have been made to ultimately ensure the game reached its conclusion,” he said.
Kent State indicated Friday that it is going to take several steps to evaluate its policies and ensure that this kind of situation never happens again.
Kent State’s Intercollegiate Athletics Equity and Diversity Committee will conduct a self-study on gender equity in athletics. The school will administer a climate study of student-athletes and department staff.
They will also take stock of their progress toward “The Game Plan,” which is its strategic plan for athletics which is in its final year.
Diacon acknowledged that the situation has not reflected well on Kent State.
“Beyond the negative impact upon the visiting teams directly involved, we are sorry that this incident has reflected poorly on the proud tradition of academic and competitive excellence in women’s athletics at Kent State,” Diacon said.
“The actions we are taking will not only ensure that an incident like this does not occur again but, most importantly, will make all student-athletes, our Golden Flashes and visitors alike, feel supported and treated with respect, kindness and purpose in everything we do.”