How A Fake High School Football Team Played On ESPN
On Sunday, August 29, 2021, football enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the start of the NFL season tuned in to ESPN to get their pre-season fix and also watch some elite high school football. Or so they thought because, for those who saw the game between Florida-powerhouse IMG Academy and a seemingly new outfit called Bishop Sycamore, something was clearly amiss. Not only did IMG bulldoze BS with a final score of 58-0 but, throughout the game, the ESPN commentators questioned BS's claim that they had a bunch of Division 1 players and admitted that they didn't have a lot of actual information about the team with a logo that looks like something Shredder would wear.
Everyone watching the game would probably have suspected some kind of elaborate prank if it weren't for the serious concerns about the players' safety on the field.
The fact that the ESPN staff couldn't verify BS's roster and their supposed D-1 players raised a lot of instant red flags because such verification is usually done before a game is broadcast live on national television and not, you know, after the fact. On top of that, it came to light that BS played another game only two days before the IMG standoff, showing not only negligence from ESPN's scheduling side but also the school itself, who didn't seem to have enough players to fill in for possible injuries. Heck, their players' positions weren't even correctly listed on their roster. ESPN was quick to slam Paragon, the marketing group responsible for organizing their match-up games. Still, it's probably not a good idea to pass the buck on this one since all they're admitting to is that they're working with people who can't bother to verify the legitimacy of an online-only high school that no one knew anything about.
Because here's the kicker: Pretty much everyone is struggling to find records showing that Bishop Sycamore is, in fact, a legitimate school. While the "founders" (it's even hard to determine who exactly is in charge here) claim that they have all the proper paperwork to show that they're registered with the Ohio Department of Education, no one else seems able to verify this. So much so that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has launched an investigation into BS, especially since the Department of Education doesn't have them listed as a chartered school, and they're not recognized by the Ohio High School Athletic Association at all. The school's website has been taken down because when journalists started looking into this whole clustermuck, they were alarmed that the site had 1) absolutely nothing on education, 2) their About Us section was a blank page, and 3) the only information on the site pertained to what players needed to do to up their football profiles.
In other words, Bishop Sycamore High School seems more like a Football Club in Columbus than any kind of school, even though filings to the Department of Education sees them claiming to be "one of the best academic institutions in the country."
Behind the BS saga (honestly, the name mocks us) seems to be two key figures (at the moment, because Lord knows what will be uncovered by the time we run this). Andre Peterson is said to be a founder and the administrator of the school, and he claims that all they're trying to do is give low-income, underprivileged youngsters a chance. That may all sound good and noble, but interviews with parents who had their kids enrolled at BS suggest that there was never any actual schooling going on and that some kids forfeited their high school diplomas because they transferred to BS before graduating. Peterson also claims that BS is registered as a non-charter, non-tax-supported school which apparently means they can operate outside of normal systems because of their "truly held religious beliefs."
To understand what that means, we turn to the second figure in this strange tale of high school football, because while BS says it provides online courses to the kids, there are serious discrepancies about what these courses actually are and where they're coming from. Not to mention the fact that there doesn't seem to be any actual school location with a football field for them to practice, with some previously enrolled students saying that at one point, they simply practiced in the backyard of some apartment they were staying at. Furthermore, these kids were often moved around because they got thrown out of hotels and apartments after BS didn't pay the rent. Ah yes, good old school.
Anyway, the now-fired coach Roy Johnson explained that the school was supposedly founded by ministers (no one knows who they are) and that BS teaches life lessons infused with Biblical themes. "When we talk about speaking with one voice, we talk about the Tower of Babel," Johnson said. It's like if Sunday school also included a football game every once in a while, which, honestly, would be fine if it weren't for the serious safety concerns of these kids whose conditioning is a far cry from standard practices.
While their new coach was a bit blunter.
This is not Johnson's first football school blunder. Back in 2018, he founded the Christians of Faith Academy backed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church's Third District. Only, the AME Church soon cut all ties with Johnson's COF, claiming they had no affiliation with the school and accusing him of using the Church's name to apparently solicit donations and sell insurance. The Department of Education revoked the school's registration, citing "the school could not be located and student attendance could not be verified." A string of lawsuits followed, claiming fraud and unpaid loans and bills for services. Fast forward to now, and it appears that Johnson also has a domestic abuse warrant against him. Not that any of these things seem to matter much to him. He insists that he had finally put Bishop Sycamore on the map, saying, "No one had ever heard of us before we got this game." Which, to be fair, does sound like something he would say since he recruited many of BS's players by telling them they're going to be on Netflix someday.
Sure. This football drama truly has Sports Documentary written all over it. On the one hand, you have a school like IMG Academy, the perfect example of a school that is unapologetically an elitist athletic prep school instead of an ordinary academic school, even though they at least have proper teachers and classes. In the middle, you have ESPN and sports media with their hungry hands grabbing for content and trying to fill up their schedules with, in this case, absolutely anyone willing to play. And then there's Bishop Sycamore on the other end of the stick, trying to get into the game and be the "IMG of the Midwest," even if it means outing themselves and exposing their dodgy practices just to get in the game.
Many people have ragged on BS since their game against IMG, especially when rumors surfaced that there were 21-year-olds playing in their team. But some of their players are most definitely kids, and it's these kids who are getting caught up in this very American idea that "playing the game" — even if it means committing fraud — and being part of some national scandal is what's needed to get you recognized so you could have better opportunities. After all, if they were actually good at the game, literally and figuratively, no one would probably give a damn.
Zanandi is on Twitter and wrote a comic for Trailer Park Boys that you can order here.