80 Days To K-State Football: “The Forfeit Game”


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For our next installment of the 100 day countdown to kickoff against North Dakota State University, 80 is the number of days left until kick-off at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. 1980 was also the year of “The Forfeit,” representing the only disputed football game in the history of the Sunflower Showdown and the subject of today’s countdown highlight.

The Governor’s Cup was instituted in 1969, and since that year K-State owns a 24-19-1 edge (the tie resulting from the Toilet Bowl that every fan should know about and we previously documented here). Well, that’s 24 wins if you ask K-State. If you head over to KU’s Athletic Department, you’ll find a school claiming a 23-20-1 series count because the Jayhawks refuse to concede a win they were ordered to vacate in 1980.

On November 1, 1980, Kansas put the better team on the field, and left Manhattan with a 20-18 victory. How they fielded that team, however, was not in line with the qualifications required by the NCAA. While no mass conspiracy to cheat or pay players was ever leveled (indeed, the football program probably ran a tighter ship than the current one), there was one player on the field that should not have been there – Kerwin Bell.

Kerwin Bell was one of the most prized running backs in the country coming out of high school, and surprised programs across the nation when he selected Kansas. He broke almost every rushing record on the West Coast and was also a superb pass catcher and blocker, and was named both the Big 8 Newcomer of the Year and a member of the All-Big 8 Team as a freshman. Bell was an amazing athlete.

Unfortunately, Bell was not an amazing student. While questions around his eligibility existed, he was given a scholarship and allowed to play for KU for two years. However, it was eventually discovered that he technically did not possess the 2.0 GPA coming out of high school necessary to be eligible for financial aid and competition. This resulted in all victories Bell participated in during 1980 and 1981 being vacated (an MCL tear prevented him from playing the entirety of these seasons), including the 1980 game triumph over K-State.

The Big 8 ordered KU to forfeit all three conference wins and a tie in 1980. K-State not only excised the loss from its record, but also claimed victory (a likely outcome without the electric Bell on the field). In response, KU decided not to acknowledge the sanctions and continue claiming victory. As such, 1980 is the only game on record in this series in which both teams simultaneously won and lost while one team claimed victory after scoring fewer points and the other team claimed victory after scoring more points but with a player whose contributions are no longer recognized. “The Forfeit” was a fitting start to what become a cluster of embarrassing episodes in the Governor’s Trophy showdowns fans were subjected to throughout the 1980’s.

To work backward in the countdown, visit 81 days, where we preview Kyle Klein’s anticipated contributions at wide receiver.