It’s the biggest professional sports scandal you’ve never heard of.

Professional cornhole has been rocked by controversy after the top-ranked team was accused of using illegal bean bags at the 2022 American Cornhole League 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 that were smaller than regulation during the finals, which were broadcasted 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,” ESPN’s cornhole color commentator Mark Pryor remarked. “That’s going to create some drama.”

Philip Lopez, left, tosses a bag at the ACL World Championship in August.
“BagGate” happened at the 2022 ACL World Championship in South Carolina in August.
iplaycornhole/Twitter

In response, Lopez and Richards requested that their opponents bags also be inspected. Their bags were also found to be not compliant.

According to ACL regulations, cornhole bags must be 6 by 6 inches when laid flat and weigh 16 ounces, with minor variations tolerated.

A one hour delay ensued before officials determined that the violations were not intentional and decided to continue the competition with a $15,000 cash prize at stake.

“It’s possible, but I’m pretty confident that it wasn’t intentional,” ACL spokesman Trey Ryder told WSJ regarding cheating allegations. 

Cornhole, a staple at tailgates and barbecues, has rapidly evolved from the simple yard game that can be played while drinking a beer to serious competition with professional athletes and sponsors. And it’s just getting bigger.

There are currently 155,000 members of the ACL, 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.

ACL’s top players earn as much as $250,000 a year from winnings, sponsorship deals and endorsements.

With such a major expansion and influx of money, players have been doing whatever they can to get a leg up on the competition, including doctoring their bags.

Lighter and thinner bags can be advantageous and players have been boiling their bags or washing them with vinegar to make them more pliable.

Bean bags
“BagGate” has forced the ACL to crack down on cheating as cornhole has exploded in popularity.
iplaycornhole/Twitter

“You have the average players that try everything to make the bag do different things,” Nate Voyer, a cornhole professional, told the Journal. Voyer chooses to wash his bag with a little fabric softener and let it air dry.

Harbaugh denied manipulating his bags for the ACL World Championship.

 “Honestly it could be anything,” he says. “Definitely unintentional.”

His opponent, Lopez, also said he doesn’t know how his bags shrunk, denying that he boiled them.

In response to “BagGate,” ACL has had to step up its policing.

“We’ve really had to crack down to make sure that all these bags are to spec,” Ryder said. “Internally we’ve had to invest more into our compliance.”

More bags than ever have been rejected for the upcoming season, when random bag checks will be in place, he said. The league is also exploring “automated bag testing.”

“We believe we are taking a major step,”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 some big shifts and movements in the infrastructure of the sport,” Marvin said. “This is when sports evolve.”

Professional cornholer Jay Corley told the Journal that he sees only one solution for the rapidly-growing game.

“I think we’re going to have to go to having a referee just like any other sport.”



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