clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ESPN’s Bowl Game Clown Show

“I don’t know if we can get a new crew or not in time.” 

Guaranteed Rate Bowl - Kansas v UNLV Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

While I’m guessing most of the discussion has already been had both online and in recent Chalkboard posts, I promised a piece on this and by God I’m going to deliver. Because, the Guaranteed Rate Bowl was an absolute clown show, and ESPN as well as the bowl sponsor should be embarrassed with what transpired.

The production was simply awful, the announcers equally bad, and the officiating was downright terrible. At times I questioned if the pair commenting on the game were even watching it, and they definitely hadn’t done enough research. For example, late in the game as KU was attempting to ice the win, Bean went to Jared Casey on a huge third down play. They referred to Casey as KU’s “blocking tight end” (perhaps not incorrectly), but then the color guy seemed genuinely stunned that KU would look to Casey for a big play in a critical moment. On the same play, the play-by-play said something to the effect of “he’s close to the first down” when he clearly had crossed the line to gain.

Or how about when they gave a completely wrong rundown of KU’s home opponents for 2024. Those are just my favorite examples, you probably have your own you could add.

But the officiating is what really made this game stand out. National outlets picked up on the officiating quickly; Blake Schuster, writing for FTW as part of USA Today, says it certainly looked rigged, but totally wasn’t. The Associated Press took note, but didn’t tie it to gambling. Heartland College Sports called the officiating “really bad.” I hesitate to call the New York Post “news” but they jumped on the conspiracy theory as well.

While I agree that a vast conspiracy is unlikely, there are a number of factors that came together to make it appear so. The list includes:

  • The sudden line movement (6 points) in the hours before the game
  • The sheer number of penalties, particularly on Kansas as KU built a huge first half lead
  • The lack of replays on these penalties, or any other questionable call or play

Consider: Kansas was flagged 18 times for 216 yards, which is not just a record for this bowl game, but an NCAA postseason record. Phantom holds, weird dead ball personal fouls, questionable (at best) unnecessary roughness calls, false starts that should have been encroachment, and then of course the facemask that clearly wasn’t a facemask.

After the broadcast showed this replay, I’m not sure we saw another replay the rest of the night.

At one point in the fourth quarter the flag discrepancy was 17-4. It would finish with 18 on KU and 9 on UNLV, but a few equally questionable make-up calls in the fourth quarter once KU had reestablished control of the game doesn’t change anything, either, because the fact is, Kansas is not a foul-prone team. The Jayhawks came into the game 14th in the NCAA in fewest penalties, and 31st in fewest penalties yards. They averaged just 4.5 penalties per game this season and 43.6 penalty yards per game.

But for the 17 minutes spanning the last two minutes of the first half through the end of the third quarter, Kansas was called for 11 penalties. This, as Kansas was building a 28-10 halftime lead and was in full control.

During that same span, UNLV saw just one flag.

Did Lance Leipold’s team suddenly become that undisciplined for 17 minutes? I find that almost as difficult to believe as the gambling conspiracy theory. Maybe the refs just had a bad night; it’s been posited here in our comments section that perhaps they simply got overzealous in making up for some missed non-calls that went KU’s way early in the game.

Whatever the reason, it’s definitely an interesting feeling to be complaining like this after a WIN. Although to try and be fair, there is at least one apparent UNLV supporter (or more likely, KU hater) who got in on the action:

C’mon guy who appears to be Big Game Boomer’s burner. That can’t be a serious take.

But ultimately, this nightmare was on ESPN, not their streaming service or The Ocho or even ESPN2, and everything surrounding the broadcast of this game was a complete S-show. I choose my words carefully in saying that because, reportedly, the rest of the events surrounding the game and the overall bowl experience was great. The players deserved better, the fans deserved better, these programs deserved better, and the least that should happen is someone at ESPN and/or Guaranteed Rate step up, recognize what happened, and apologize for this fiasco.