“Cornhole’s Dirty Underbelly” Revealed?
2:26 PM EDT on November 4, 2022
On Thursday, American Cornhole League commissioner Stacey Moore was compelled to issue a statement confirming that no cheating had taken place at the 2022 ACL World Championships in South Carolina in August.
"Consistent with the original ruling in August and after extensive review by the ACL," she wrote, "it was determined that there was no illegal use of bags."
The statement followed recent media coverage of an incident that unfolded several months ago, in which the No. 1-ranked doubles team of Mark Richards and Philip Lopez were accused by their opponents of using bags that were not up to code.
"I thought the bags were too thin,” Devon Harbaugh, who brought the bags to the attention of officials, told the Wall Street Journal.
The officials inspected the bags live on the ESPN broadcast and found that they were indeed not in compliance. With $15,000 in prize money on the line, lighter bags could mean the difference between a big payout and going home empty-handed. But then, Lopez and Richards then asked the officials to measure their opponents bags as well. Lo and behold, they were also not above board.
Was this yet another example of a leisure activity turned professional sport falling prey to opportunistic cheaters? There has been a great deal of chicanery in this space of late, as it happens. Two dastardly fishermen were caught stuffing their haul with weights and store-bought fillets of fish; in chess, explosive accusations of cheating have sparked a defamation lawsuit; and a strange hand in a poker tournament led to an uncomfortable confrontation between a top player and his younger female opponent. Has cornhole, a backyard drinking game you play while waiting for the burgers to come off the grill, been fundamentally changed by the increasing amounts of sponsorship and prize money attached to it?
Ultimately, cornhole officials at the tournament decided that the bag discrepancies were unintentional and the players could continue using the technically illegal bags. From the WSJ:
After a one-hour delay, officials at the world championships decided no intentional violations had taken place and opted to continue the contest. Was there cheating? “It’s possible, but I’m pretty confident that it wasn’t intentional,” says ACL spokesman Trey Ryder.
It absolutely wasn’t cheating, the players say. Mr. Harbaugh says he doesn’t know how his team’s bags shrunk below the legal limit. “Honestly it could be anything,” he says. “Definitely unintentional.”
On the other side, Mr. Lopez says, “I don’t know how they became illegal-sized. We did not boil the bags.”
For some cornhole fans, though, the incident, now known as "Bag-gate," signaled the end of the happy-go-lucky period of cornhole.
“I think it’s funny that anyone believed it would be all friendships and rose petals forever in cornhole,” wrote one commenter on the Addicted to Cornhole Facebook page, per the WSJ. “Now the dirty underbelly is being exposed.”
A recent review of the Facebook group, which has 85,000 members, suggests that cornhole addicts are split about the incident. Many were confused about why the bag brouhaha was becoming such a big thing, months after the incident had already been hashed out among those in the know. Others suggested it was a marketing op to get more attention for the growing sport. Many said the whole thing was blown out of proportion. Others said the problem with was enforcement; if officials let people play with bags that aren't regulation-sized, what's the point of having regulations in the first place? And several mentioned Jordan Camba, a former ACL World Champion who was suspended last year and fined $5,000 for manipulating scoring at a conference tourney in March 2021, and wondered how those in charge of the sport were deciding on punishments. Some noted that "breaking in the bags" is a part of the sport, comparing it to how baseball players break in gloves, albeit with slightly stranger tactics. (One poster's suggestion for breaking in the bags: "Pee on them, throw them out in the snow, let your dog chew on them, and have your wife run them over with her car a few times.")
Ultimately, there was agreement around one point. As one commenter wrote: "Anywhere there's money compition [sic] and people there will be cheating."