University of Maine and Kent State University field hockey players embrace after a match Sunday.
CNN  — 

A women’s field hockey game was halted during play, so personnel at Kent State University could prepare pre-game fireworks for the football team on another field.

The move by Kent State officials sparked a social media uproar, with athletes, coaches and others questioning why the university would put a fireworks display ahead of a Division I match.

Temple University and the No. 24 ranked University of Maine field hockey teams were locked in a scoreless match as the first overtime period ended Saturday, when a Kent State official called the game and asked everyone to leave the field, University of Maine Coach Josette Babineau told CNN.

Players found out their game was over when a representative from the Kent, Ohio, university announced over the sound system that the game had ended and the teams would resume the second overtime period at 5:30 p.m. – seven hours later. But the teams weren’t asked if they could be available to play at that time, and the Temple University team having traveled from Philadelphia by bus, could not stay due to travel arrangements, Coach Susan Ciufo told CNN.

Kent State first addressed the cancellation on Twitter: “We regret today’s game had to be stopped during overtime play per field guidelines as previously discussed. We recognize the hard work and dedication of all student-athletes. The safety of our community, including student-athletes and visitors is always our first consideration.”

The visiting teams’ coaches later discovered that they were asked to clear the field by the order of the fire marshal so fireworks could be set up on an adjacent field for the Kent State football game, which was scheduled to begin at noon in a nearby stadium as a part of Kent State University Parents and Families Weekend.

The field hockey game was ruled an “exhibition” or scrimmage because Division I requires a clear outcome to report an official NCAA Division I contest.

Kent State Athletic Director Joel Nielsen released a statement Monday apologizing to the teams.

“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,” Nielsen said.

The NCAA has confirmed to CNN it is in contact with the schools involved, but declined to comment about what steps it was taking.

The story gained attention when the University of Maine and its players tweeted about the cancellation.

At a press conference Monday, Maine’s senior captain Riley Field said she and her teammates – in the moment – asked themselves, “Is this a joke?”

“It’s offensive and it’s upsetting to think that just because you’re a gender, your sport is looked at as less. We work just as hard as any men’s team. Personally, I really do believe that, they work extremely hard, we work extremely hard at a Division I level,” Field said.

Critics are raising questions about the handling of the incident.

The National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) weighed in Monday, criticizing Kent State and calling the decision “harmful to the development of female student-athletes.”

“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 association said in a statement. “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.”

Babineau acknowledged that scheduling conflicts do arise during competition seasons, but said this was not an example of poor scheduling.

“Those things could be managed and that was more a prioritizing of what needed to be done and that is what is hurtful, that that preparation for the game took priority over us completing the game,” Babineau told CNN.

The University of Maine Athletics Department is looking into filing a Title IX complaint against Kent State, Babineau said.

Athletic directors from both Temple and Maine have made statements condemning the incident at Kent State as they were visiting teams promised two full competitions. The two visiting teams played the non-conference game at Kent State, to make the trip more cost-efficient, which is common in collegiate sports, so teams don’t have to travel twice. Both teams also played Kent State and lost.

The field hockey game between the two visiting teams started at 9 a.m. and coaches had been warned back in May in an email that the game needed to be wrapped up by 10:30, but they weren’t told what would happen at 10:30, should the game not end in time, Coach Babineau told CNN.

Coaches from both teams, however, maintain their support specifically for the Kent State field hockey program, and commended the coaching staff’s handling of the situation as the host of the neutral-site game despite the administration’s bungle.

After Kent State beat the University Maine on Sunday in a match, Kent State players consoled their opponents, embracing and crying about the previous day’s events, Babineau said.

Kent State’s field hockey coach did not respond to a CNN for comment.

“It’s just hopefully an opportunity to recognize that there is an importance to have this equality in general in sports regardless of revenue programs or not,” Temple Owls Coach Ciufo told CNN. “We’re not asking for a lot for female sports, but just some respect could go a long way.”