UK Football

Report: Refs received threatening phone calls after Music City Bowl

Kentucky running back Benny Snell left the field in Nashville after his ejection from the Music City Bowl on Dec. 29.
Kentucky running back Benny Snell left the field in Nashville after his ejection from the Music City Bowl on Dec. 29.

The officiating crew from the Music City Bowl received harassing and threatening phone calls after Northwestern’s 24-23 defeat of Kentucky, according to an ESPN report.

There were several controversial calls in the Dec. 29 game, including the ejection of star UK running back Benny Snell.

The report, citing unnamed sources, said head official Chris Coyte received a “barrage of threatening calls to his cell and office phones,” as did the commercial real estate association to which he belongs.

Coyte and his fellow Pac-12 officials received an escort leaving the stadium and to the airport, according to the Pac-12.

The menacing calls dwindled significantly until a letter from UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart to the Pac-12 director of officials critical of Coyte and his crew was reported by the Herald-Leader last week.

“We feel great disappointment that what was supposed to be a quality bowl experience for our young people and our university was marred by these incidents,” Barnhart wrote in the letter obtained via an open records request.

When ESPN contacted the Pac-12 about Barnhart’s Jan. 5 letter, the league said it thought the athletic director’s decision to reach out to Coleman was a break from protocol.

“We’re happy to discuss the matter with the SEC,” the Pac-12 said in a statement to ESPN. “We’re particularly sensitive about this issue because our officials have received threats and we are concerned about their safety.”

ESPN also contacted the Southeastern Conference and Kentucky about it.

“We are not aware of any protocols for this kind of situation,” the Kentucky athletic department said in its statement to the sports network. “We made contact with the Southeastern Conference office and made them aware of our concerns. We expressed those concerns to the SEC and to the Pac-12 office.”

The SEC also weighed in: “The University of Kentucky expressed its concerns about specific instances related to officiating in the Music City Bowl to both the SEC and the Pac-12 offices. There has been no universal protocol related to communicating concerns about postseason bowl games. The SEC has no further comment on this matter.”

It is not the first time accusations of harassing calls have been made against UK fans in recent months. Basketball referee John Higgins received threats and calls to his home and place of business after officiating the Cats’ NCAA Tournament Elite Eight loss to North Carolina in March.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader