Kent State Fumbles the [Field Hockey] Ball – Again

On September 7th, Kent State officials stopped a D1 field hockey contest as it was about to begin double overtime in order to allow sufficient preparation for a daytime fireworks display prior to a football game. The outcry, including from this corner, was fast and furious. Ultimately, Kent State issued an apology to the two teams – University of Maine and Temple. Meanwhile, Maine’s Title IX Department filed a complaint with the Kent State Title IX Department over the incident.

As might be expected, Kent State once again displayed a complete and utter lack of understanding of its most basic obligations under Title IX, which reads:

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.  20 U.S.C. §§ 1681–1688

Yesterday, after completing its investigation into the incident, Kent State President Todd Diacon announced that no Title IX violation or evidence of gender bias had been found. Of note, the investigation uncovered that a similar situation had occurred in 2016, when a prior administration made the correct call and cancelled the fireworks. Kent State allegedly offered to reimburse the two teams for travel expenses for a rematch – a statement disputed by Temple – but this will not be possible due to scheduling constraints. The University of Maine issued a statement following the announcement, registering its disappointment that none of the impacted field hockey players had been contacted during the investigation.

Going forward, Kent State has pledged to conduct a self-study of its athletes and staff – although it is hard to see how this will remedy the priority system clearly articulated by its actions on September 7th. The plain language of Title IX requires respect and equal opportunity for all. It doesn’t take an exhaustive internal investigation, a focus group or a self-study to recognize that when women athletes are kicked off the field to facilitate daytime fireworks as a prelude to a (male) football game, discrimination has occurred and the law has been broken.

Can you even imagine a football team being removed from the field of play to allow a field hockey contest?

The Kent State “investigation” simply compounds the institution’s prior mistakes. Own it, Kent State. Here’s hoping the self-study includes a deep dive into the Athletic Department’s approach toward women athletes and the women’s athletic program. Based upon the institution’s actions to date, though, I wouldn’t count on it.

Photo Credit: Kent State University

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Helen A. “Nellie” Drew is an expert in sports law, including professional and amateur sports issues ranging from NCAA compliance and Title IX matters to facility construction, discipline of professional athletes, collective bargaining and franchise issues. Drew formerly served as an officer and in-house counsel to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, after previously working as outside counsel to the Sabres and the NHL. Among her more interesting experiences were assisting former USSR superstar Alexander Mogilny in obtaining asylum status in the U.S. and working on multiple NHL expansions, including San Jose, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Drew teaches a variety of courses that incorporate topics such as drug testing in professional sports and professional player contract negotiation and arbitration. She is especially interested in the evolving research and litigation concerning concussions in both amateur and professional sports.

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