It’s the biggest professional sports scandal you’ve ever heard of.
Professional cornhole has been rocked by controversy after the top-ranked team was accused of using illegal bean bags during the 2022 American League Cornhole World Championships in August.
Dubbed ‘BagGate’, the now infamous incident began when player Devon Harbaugh complained that rival opponents Mark Richards and Philip Lopez were using bags smaller than regulations during the final, which was broadcast live on ESPN from Rock Hill, South Carolina.
“I thought the bags were too thin,” Harbaugh told The Wall Street Journal — and he was right.
Officials gathered to inspect Richards and Lopez’s bean bags and confirmed that they were, in fact, not regulation size.
“They’re too small,” remarked ESPN cornhole color commentator Mark Pryor. “It will create drama.”
In response, Lopez and Richards requested that their opponents’ bags be inspected as well. Their bags were also found to be non-compliant.
According to ACL regulations, cornhole bags must measure 6 by 6 inches when laid flat and weigh 16 ounces, with minor variations allowed.
A one-hour delay ensued before officials determined the violations were unintentional and decided to continue the competition with a cash prize of $15,000 on the line.
“It’s possible, but I’m pretty confident it wasn’t intentional,” ACL spokesman Trey Ryder told the WSJ regarding the cheating allegations.
Cornhole, a staple of tailgates and barbecues, has quickly evolved from a simple backyard game you can play over a beer to serious competition with professional athletes and sponsors. And it’s only getting bigger.
There are currently 155,000 ACL members, up 30,000 members from 2021. The league hosted 22,000 events in 2022, up from 14,000 in 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Top ACL players earn up to $250,000 a year through earnings, sponsorship deals and endorsements.
With such a large expansion and influx of money, players have done everything they can to stay ahead of the competition, including tending to their bags.
Lighter, thinner bags can be advantageous and players have boiled their bags or washed them with vinegar to make them more flexible.
“You have the average players trying everything to get the bag to do different things,” Nate Voyer, a cornhole pro, told the Journal. Voyer chooses to wash her bag with a little fabric softener and let it air dry.
Harbaugh denied handling his bags for the ACL World Championship.
“Honestly, it could be anything,” he says. “Certainly unintentional.”
His opponent, Lopez, also said he didn’t know how his bags shrunk, denying boiling them.
In response to “BagGate”, ACL had to step up its surveillance.
“We really had to crack down to make sure all of these bags are on spec,” Ryder said. “Internally, we had to invest more in our compliance.”
More bags than ever have been rejected for the coming season when random bag checks will be in place, he said. The league is also exploring “automated bag testing.”
“We think we’re hitting a big milestone,” Ryder added.
Eric Marvin, president of the American Cornhole Association – which calls itself the original and official governing body of Cornhole – said new team rules and regulations will be announced by the end of the year.
“You’re going to see big changes and movements in the infrastructure of the sport,” Marvin said. “That’s when the sport evolves.”
Professional cornholer Jay Corley told the Journal he saw only one solution for the growing game.
“I think we’re going to have to adopt a referee like any other sport.”
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