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Football blowout accidentally uncovers high school scam

I know I recap odd headlines of the year every December, but here’s one that had me raising my eyebrow high enough that I knew I couldn’t wait to share it.

It was from a tweet from Complex Sports back on Aug. 30: “Bishop Sycamore, an alleged fake high school, tricked ESPN into playing a game on national television.”

Huh? A fake high school?? Being broadcast on ESPN for millions to see?? That’s not something I expected to read while browsing news on a regular Monday evening. I spent more time this week reading up on the scandal and it only gets weirder from there.

If you haven’t heard yet, here’s a summary of reporting I’ve read from CBS Sports, Awful Announcing, Complex Sports, SB Nation, and even ESPN itself.

ESPN had been showcasing football games from top high schools around the country last week, and one of those games was a match-up on Sunday, Aug. 29 between Ohio-based Bishop Sycamore and Florida-based IMG Academy, the latter of which is a pretty famous powerhouse in prep football. So it was no surprise that IMG won the game. Though the 58-0 blowout was more of a surprise since these were supposed to be two excellent teams going up against one another with athletes who were supposed to be D1 college-level caliber.

But by the end of the game, even ESPN’s announcers were questioning things. Anish Shroff said on the broadcast “Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster, and to be frank, a lot of that, we could not verify. They did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services. From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a fair fight, and there’s got to be a point where you’re worried about health and safety.”

Other people watching the game pointed out that the players seemed to be trading helmets as if they didn’t have enough equipment. And it was discovered that the team had played another game just two days prior. (Even the professional leagues know that it’s not a good idea to play games so close together without enough rest.)

So what happened? According to ESPN, they work with a company called Paragon to schedule high school matchups to be broadcast on the network. And somebody apparently didn’t do their due diligence in checking things out. A spokesman from Paragon said they’d received different rosters for Bishop Sycamore’s football team ahead of Sunday’s game, and they didn’t know the team had just played a game two days before the IMG matchup.

While this is all an unfortunate PR debacle for ESPN for broadcasting a terrible game, it’s not the most ridiculous part of this story.

Bishop Sycamore probably isn’t even a legitimate school. They’re allegedly an online-only “non-charter, non-tax supported” school with their physical location listed at a university library. They aren’t a part of the Ohio High School Athletic Association either. (In fact, they apparently play football in a Texas-based league??). Even worse, reporting from The Columbus Dispatch says the school isn’t even listed in the Ohio Education Directory System.

The governor of Ohio has called for an investigation now “to ensure the school is providing the educational opportunities Ohio students deserve.”

The school’s website (which is, as of this writing, currently down for “maintenance”), consisted of only a handful of blog posts. The “about us” and “staff” sections were completely blank. That’s either a sign that they needed to hire someone with more tech savvy to set up the website or they’re simply a scam for getting kids to play football. Both of these possibilities seem likely to me.

A parent of a former player, who had already received his high school diploma elsewhere first, said school officials didn’t ask for transcripts and told him his son only had to take one class to play on the football team. The parent added, “as far as I know, none of the kids did any school.”

And things get worse when you look at Bishop Sycamore’s coach, Roy Johnson. In 2018, he started a different online charter school called “Christians of Faith Academy” which was later investigated for fraud. The school was then rebranded into a different name once more before it became Bishop Sycamore. In 2019, one of their matchups was cancelled when their opponent learned there were “numerous players on the roster over the age of 18.”

By Aug. 31, as more and more information kept coming to light about the school and its football team, Johnson had been fired as head coach and schools that were supposed to play Bishop Sycamore in upcoming games have started to back out.

What an all-around weird situation! ESPN broadcasts one terribly mismatched game and suddenly a whole fraudulent high school is uncovered. I honestly feel bad for the players, who seem to have been scammed into thinking they’ll achieve their football dreams by joining the team which touts playing some of the best high schools in the country. The adults in charge don’t seem to be taking them into account, leaving them with safety concerns and a lack of education, and that’s really the worst thing about all this.

But maybe someone should have seen this coming. After all, Bishop Sycamore’s initials are “BS” which, more than anything else, seems to sum this all up perfectly.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.