Here we are, well over halfway into 2021, and it seems like the sports world we know and love is back to the pre-2020 operations we so dearly missed. Gone are the stadiums filled with cardboard fans. The living, breathing, and screaming fans have made their glorious return to stadiums around the country, itching to get a dose of the packed-house atmosphere. As ecstatic as us sports fanatics are, it is hard to imagine being happier than the sports broadcasting powerhouse, ESPN. After a year where the networks future was at risk, it seems that they have made it through the horrors of 2020. To sports fans, 2021 was expected to be the long-awaited return of a “normal” sports world presented by ESPN.
Despite the controversial Rachel Nichols scandal, and the accusations against the network by the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, one could argue that it has been a successful return to regularly scheduled programming for ESPN. That was until a suspicious Sunday afternoon, on August 29th, when ESPN aired a high school football matchup at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. A matchup that has become one of the most shocking stories to ever happen in sports.
The game in question featured the ruthless IMG Academy Ascenders (Fla.), one of the perennial top high school teams in the country, versus the Bishop Sycamore Centurions (Ohio). This game was meant to be the grand finale of a weekend series of games between the top high school football programs in the country. The IMG football program was one literally built to attract and produce some of the best high school football players the country has to offer, and it has done so in historic fashion since the team’s first season in 2013. For example, in the 2021 NFL Draft, IMG Academy broke the record for most picks from a high school in a single draft with 7 former Ascenders selected. That is more players taken in one draft than total losses in school history (5). When acknowledging the fact that IMG Academy has not lost a football game since October 10th, 2019, it is fair to assume the powerhouse is likely to continue its national dominance.
Now, it is fair to wonder, if IMG Academy is the high school football equivalent to a super team, how good is this Bishop Sycamore squad playing against them on national television on the Hall of Fame campus? Well, according to the information provided by the school, the Centurions had multiple players with division I offers from power 5 college programs. This information became more and more suspicious as the game played out, ultimately ending with IMG demolishing Bishop Sycamore 58-0. One thing was obvious as soon as the game kicked off—something was not right about this game.
“Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster. To be frank, a lot of that we couldn’t 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 now where you do worry about health and safety.”
That might be the most hilarious and infamous quote in the history of live sports broadcasts, thanks to announcer Anish Schroff at the 7-minute mark of the 2nd quarter. At that point in the game, it was clear what was happening as IMG Academy effortlessly put together a 30-0 lead. Numbers and names for Bishop Sycamore players were not matching the roster ESPN was given, and an ongoing display of disastrous playsby the Centurions made the world wonder if these players even knew what they were doing. Before long, we all found out why.
It has truly been hard to keep up with the flood of ridiculous details about Bishop Sycamore. There is one important detail that sits above the rest—Bishop Sycamore is not an actual school. As a matter of fact, there is no record of the man the school is allegedly named after. Despite what their now removed school website claimed, there is also no verification of a physical location, sports facilities, and even roster eligibility. According to an article by CBS, there are players on the Centurions roster that have either already graduated high school, or attend other high schools on the other side of the country. Awful Announcing goes one step further to report that some players have even appeared in Junior College games.
The bizarre story seems to worsen when considering the programs performance since its first documented season in the Fall of 2020. The team has not won a single game in its two-year existence. In 2021, despite boasting one of the toughest schedules in the team has been outscored 115-7 in its first three games. By the way, it’s important to note that all three games were played within 10 days of each other, raising serious risk of players health. Something that has lead Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to pledge an investigation into Bishop Sycamore.
Should this investigation lead to serious consequences, the blame must fall on the “school director,” Andre Peterson, and “head coach,” Roy Johnson are the so-called masterminds behind the entire fraudulent institution. Johnson, who has an active arrest warrant, lied to parents and players about the “team” they were signing up to play for. In a separate article by Awful Announcing, parents of players were often left with hotel bills that could amount to more than $2,000 after the Bishop Sycamore staff never paid. However, perhaps the biggest reason that Peterson and Johnson should face serious consequences is simple—this is not even the first time they have created a fake school to field a fake team. USA Today recently exposed Johnson as the ringleader of a similar football fraud scandal, with Peterson being tied to the team as well. In 2018, a school named the Christians of Faith (COF) Academy in Columbus, Ohio. Much like the current scandal, Johnson was on the school staff, and Peterson had a son on the team. COF also failed to verify a legitimate physical address, and, again, there is no evidence even suggesting that real schooling took place. Thankfully, the Ohio Department of Education shut down the COF Academy before it could find the “success” that its sister school, Bishop Sycamore would find. Johnson and Peterson are starting to build up a reputation for fraudulent schools with atrocious football teams. This goes beyond the comical nature one might find at the surface of this story. Young kids with big dreams are conned into a situation that not only could leave their families in financial trouble, but these kids health and safety are at serious risk. As of now, we wait and hope the correct consequences are given to those who knowingly put this in motion.