The Right to Compete

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The Right to Compete

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  It has been a commonly known fact that in the United States, football is king. It’s the college sport that brings in the most revenue, and the NFL is highest grossing professional sports organization. Yet, despite popular thought, money wasn’t the deciding factor in Kent State University’s recent decision to end a neutral site field hockey match between Temple University and the University of Maine. Kent State’s administration decided that a daytime fireworks show prior to the kickoff of a football game was more important than the completion of a Division I Field Hockey game that was headed into double overtime. 

   On September 7, Temple and Maine were playing a neutral site game at Kent State’s field when the match went scoreless into overtime. After the first overtime, the game remained scoreless, resulting in a second, 10-minute period of 7v7 play (field hockey is regularly played with 11 players to a side). Prior to the start of the second overtime, around 10:30am, officials from Kent State’s athletics department came onto the field and told the teams that their game had to end due to the home opener football game that was set to kickoff at noon. They weren’t just kicking them off the field for the football game, but for the fireworks display that was supposed to take place right before the game, on the football field adjacent to the hockey field. 

   According to the statement released by the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association on September 9, “while the coaches were made aware of the 10:30 a.m. stoppage of play via a May 2019 email, Kent State University failed to communicate the steps that would be taken should the 10:30 a.m. hard stop be reached.” Despite the email agreement, the NFHCA also discovered that in the game contract, there was no mention of the hard stop time, nor any contingency plans for what would happen if the time was reached. The Kent State officials offered to complete the game at 5:30 p.m. following the completion of the football game, but due to Temple’s travel plans, this was impossible. Because the game was never completed, it was declared a “no contest” and will not be counted on either team’s overall record. They played 70 minutes of a game that will not be counted. 

   Right after the decision, the University of Maine field hockey team tweeted about the event, gaining a lot of attention within the field hockey world and eventually more well known news outlets, including SportsCenter. 

   This story was brought to my attention through the initial tweet from UMaine, and I was immediately devastated by the way Kent State administration handled the entire situation. I, myself, am a member of SLU’s Division I Field Hockey team so this hits the nail on the head for me. I can immediately put myself in the shoes of all of the girls that were on the field when they were told by another school’s athletic department that all of the hard work they put in every day, all of the sacrifices they make for their themselves, their teammates and their school are irrelevant. This entire issue goes beyond the “revenue sports” argument because the two sports are played on completely different fields, and the only reason the game was cancelled was due to a pre-game festivity, not an actual contest. 

   The Kent State administration effectively told over 50 women that a display of daytime fireworks was more important than the completion of their game.

   USA Field Hockey released a statement on September 10 that said, “the abrupt cancellation of [the game] has caused great concern within our sport… [and we] will continue to support the idea that all student-athletes have equal access to the right to compete.” 

   The right to compete. When you step onto a field in a uniform with your school written across your chest, a school that you have given hours of sweat, passion, heart and tears for, you have the right to finish the game. Fireworks are and should never be more important than a Division I contest – male or female. 

   It not only infuriates me, but hurts me to see that 47 years after Title IX was passed, women still have to fight for the same fair treatment as men in sports. When SportsCenter picked up this story, I was excited to see that it would get the national attention it deserves, hoping it would bring attention to the fact that this continues to be an issue. I made the mistake of reading the comments on the post because much of what I saw were people responding, “field hockey got what it deserved,” or, “no one cares about field hockey.”

   No one cares about field hockey? How about the teams of young girls I have been honored to coach throughout the years who are empowered through sport; the men and women who get to represent their country in the Olympics because, yes, the United States does in fact have a men’s national team in field hockey; the parents who sacrifice their weekends, free time and money for their children who are chasing their dreams and traveling across the country to play in tournaments; the young women who get to realize their greatest goal of competing for their university and the teams that become more like families. 

   The field hockey community in the USA is a very tight knit group and will continue to fight until this heinous decision is rectified, but this goes beyond field hockey. We have to continue to fight for the equal right to compete.