Update: We’ve spoken to a parent of one of the players who shared their crazy story being a part of the Bishop Sycamore team.
IMG Academy’s football team frequently blows out whoever they play.
That’s not surprising; IMG ranks as one of the top high school teams in the country. ESPN’s own press release about IMG’s game yesterday touted nine top-300 players in their senior class as well as ten top-300 ranked juniors. They’re absolutely stacked, making them a draw for networks like ESPN looking to capitalize on the fanatical levels of interest in the world of college football recruiting.
Given all that, it’s easy to see why IMG played in the finale of the Geico Kickoff Classic, a series of seven high school games across ESPN networks featuring some of the country’s best high school teams. You’d think IMG’s opponent, Bishop Sycamore, would be of similar stature. That was very much not the case; IMG won 58-0, yes, but digging beyond the scoreline we found things that are a lot more troubling than the talent disparity on the field.
James Smith (22) and Malik Bryant (5), two top 2023 defensive prospects with Ohio State offers, with the pressure to force this third-down incompletion. Smith is a top-10 overall prospect in the 2023 class, and he’s looked the part today. pic.twitter.com/1keUY3gXWw
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) August 29, 2021
Bishop Sycamore is a team with very questionable origins and a ton of red flags. Worst of all: they had played a game on Friday night, raising obvious health and safety concerns.
So how did they end up on ESPN?
The network has been upfront in saying that all of the games for the Geico Kickoff are booked by Paragon Marketing. Paragon has been ESPN’s partner on multiple events across different sports and high school programs.
ESPN provided the following statement:
“We regret that this happened and have discussed it with Paragon, which secured the matchup and handles the majority of our high school event scheduling. They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening moving forward.”
I spoke with Paragon president Rashid Ghazi last night. Ghazi said that they would have cancelled the game had they had known that the same kids played earlier in the weekend, and they had held out hope that Bishop Sycamore perhaps fielded two teams with a split-squad approach to the two contests.
Unfortunately that’s not true. Both games are available online. Bishop Sycamore had the same starting quarterback both games, and frequently had players with the same numbers in the same alignments in both games. Coach Roy Johnson admitted as much this afternoon in an interview.
It gets worse: a lot of these players played both ways in both games, meaning these kids had one day of rest after playing offense and defense before doing it all over again against maybe the most talented team in the country. That’s unconscionable, of course, but it gets even worse.
Bishop Sycamore’s Friday night game was played against Sto-Rox, and (for now) can be found on YouTube.
The game was played just outside of Pittsburgh, with Bishop Sycamore losing 19-7. Both the news writeup and the game broadcast name Trillian Harris as the starting quarterback for Bishop Sycamore, the same starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against IMG. Although Harris would switch numbers between games, he has the same red facemask (Harris would leave the game after suffering an injury on Sunday, something that happened to a few Sycamore players).
That’s indicative of another thing viewers picked up on Sunday: it looked like Bishop Sycamore had mismatched helmets and potentially not enough helmets for the entire team. That’s despite the roster being reported to be very small: just 30-35 players, hence the two-way participation.
A week ago, Bishop Sycamore posted a Go Fund Me campaign seeking $20,000, to which they’ve raised under $200. The description of that campaign below (unedited on our end):
We are Bishop Sycamore a new football program getting established in Columbus Ohio. We play a national schedule which is ranked 4th in the nation. We have gather young men from all over the country in the pursuit of a similar goal. We currently need your assistant with helping these young men achieve their goals and inspire other young men to do the same. It takes a community to raise a child please be that community and help these young men! Please help us with funding team meals, travel expenses and equipment cost.
check us out on Instagram and twitter: @ _Bishopfootball
There’s obviously a lot of shadiness here, but one thing is true: Bishop Sycamore does indeed have the fourth-toughest schedule according to Max Preps. They have multiple games scheduled (for now) against various national powerhouse programs.
Friday’s game also seemed to suggest Bishop Sycamore might not have an away white jersey; both teams played in black, which obviously makes it hard on spectators and even the players themselves to tell teams apart.
Below is an illicit YouTube upload of the IMG game (it’s now been deleted).
Comparing both games, you can find usually more than handful of Bishop Sycamore players at the same position lined up with the same number on any given play.
So, again: how does this game not only take place but make it to national television?
ESPN claims they sounded the alarm to Paragon weeks in advance when they couldn’t learn anything about Bishop Sycamore’s roster, depth chart, or even just any general information about the school.
Bishop Sycamore allegedly bailed on a conference call with ESPN days before the game, before providing a fact sheet of information on Sunday claiming multiple players had major D1 offers from power programs.
ESPN could not verify any of this information and felt they were “scammed.” That feeling permeated the broadcast, including this viral exchange that saw Anish Shroff acknowledging reality. It came after a long weather delay, with the game already out of hand and the Bishop Sycamore coach refusing to allow for a running clock.
ESPN’s commendations WENT IN on Bishop Sycamore ? pic.twitter.com/RCJv46gOA3
— BuckeyeScoop.com (@kirk_barton) August 29, 2021
“It’s very, very clear that they can’t match up.”
“No, they can’t match up. And you already saw Trillian Harris, their quarterback, get dinged up. And the last thing you want is to have this showcase on national TV. …The point to finish here is, you look at IMG and this is the most talented prep team in the country. 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. So, okay, that’s what you’re telling us, fine, that’s how we take it in. 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.”
“I already am worried about it. I think this could potentially be dangerous given the circumstances and the mismatch that we have here. And quite honestly, Bishop Sycamore doesn’t have not only the front-line players, but they don’t have the depth in case something were to happen to their roster with a kid or two here throughout the remaining two quarters of this football game.”
A reporter at the game shared the following with me:
“Their roster was very small though – 30-35 players would be my guesstimate. And they had a bunch of injuries over the course of the game, which makes sense if they were playing for the second time in three days.”
Shroff and Tom Luginbill called the game remotely and to their endless credit were very critical the game on Twitter in addition to that moment on the broadcast.
“Early on they (IMG) were getting clean hits on the quarterback on every play,” Shroff told me. “There was clearly a player safety issue.”
Sorry. They had no business being in that game today. None. I feel bad for the kids. Player health and safety was at risk today. It was uncomfortable for anyone who watched. https://t.co/Eq39vdywLm
— Anish Shroff (@AnishESPN) August 29, 2021
No kidding. Total scam.
— Tom Luginbill ?? (@TomLuginbill) August 29, 2021
You said “this could be dangerous” a couple of snaps later Bishop Sycamore’s “best athlete” goes down… the coach doesn’t approve a running clock… sad! He needs to answer. https://t.co/AzuqOGTmIQ
— Parker Branton (@ParkerBranton) August 29, 2021
That takes us through the broadcast. But the big question: should Paragon, ESPN, and IMG have known better?
Bishop Sycamore went 0-6 last year by a cumulative scoring margin of 227 to 42. That includes a 56-6 loss to IMG; apparently that wasn’t enough to put IMG off playing them again.
While most parties involved seem to be distancing themselves from this fiasco, a Twitter account for Prep Gridiron Logistics has been extremely active on Twitter defending the game. There have also been a few message board accounts using very similar language and reasoning in an effort to prop up the legitimacy of Bishop Sycamore as a school and a football program.
The Prep Gridiron Logistics website states the following:
Member programs seeking 2021 games
Good Counsel MD, St. Frances MD, Milton GA, IMG Academy FL, St John’s College DC, Don Bosco Prep NJ, Archbishop Hoban OH, Archbishop Moeller OH, St. John Bosco CA, St. Joseph Prep PA, LaSalle OH, Mater Dei CA, Clearwater Academy FL, Life Christian VA, Deerfield Beach FL, Servite CA, Catholic LA, Buford GA, Duncanville TX, American Heritage FL, Bergen Catholic NJ, St Joseph Regional NJ, DeMatha Catholic MD, Elder OH, Bishop Sycamore OH, Auburn AL, St Thomas Aquinas FL, Oscar Smith VA
PGL recently announced a relationship with FloSports that will see many of these teams play each other though out the season, with those games streaming on FloSports.
The quote at the end of that release cites Joe Maimone, Managing Member of Prep Gridiron Logistics.
Paragon offered the following when asked about their role in the Bishop Sycamore-IMG game:
- The two schools verbally agreed to play each other in May.
- PGL recommended Bishop Sycamore but was not involved in contracting or organizing the game.
- Sometimes PGL may schedule a matchup that Paragon picks up for TV. They are usually in the business of helping teams find national matchups not actually organizing the games.
Paragon also stated they’ve never worked with Bishop Sycamore in the past nor do they have plans to in the future. When asked if they were aware of accusations made towards the program of the coach’s history at other schools, Paragon said they were not.
BS has double-digit D1 recruits on its 2021 roster. They fear no one. And they're the only team in OH that stepped-up and accepted this exciting challenge to play the #1 team in America in Canton at the Pro Football HOF. They should be lauded today, not maligned. #playthebest
— PrepGridironLogistic (@Prep_Gridiron) August 30, 2021
Issues of Bishop Sycamore go back prior to the 2020 season. In 2019, multiple games were cancelled for either not providing a roster to organizers, not booking hotel accommodations, or opponents discovering the team was using players who were older than high school players.
A couple weeks later Bishop Sycamore/YouthBuild was scheduled to play against Point Pleasant in West Virginia, but Point Pleasant canceled the game after they allegedly found multiple players on Sycamore who were over the age of 18. https://t.co/6ZHZLxyETL pic.twitter.com/hTVZSnOeLY
— Joseph Hoyt (@JoeJHoyt) August 30, 2021
This has been a lot so far. It somehow gets worse; we’ve discussed how and why this game came to fruition. That’s bad enough. But in the course of reporting the game, we learned a lot about Bishop Sycamore itself.
Bishop Sycamore’s existence as an actual school has been called into question many times over. If it does, it’s as a new online charter school at most. The school is not recognized by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and their physical location, practice facilities, and roster eligibility could not be verified.
Many people have pointed out that Bishop Sycamore plays a lot of postgraduate players. Some have actually played in JUCO games and are a few years older than most high school athletes. In their games to date, the team has been shorthanded while also providing little to no information about its roster to broadcast partners, as seen here with no numbers or depth chart:
Imagine that. Bishop Sycamore didn't give the TV guys an accurate or complete roster.
This is the "roster" we were given when they played Archbishop Hoban last week… ?♂️?♂️ pic.twitter.com/e51OJCAuOA
— Ryan (@Isley23) August 29, 2021
Football Scoop did some digging into the program and found more questions than answers.
Vanishingly little on Sycamore’s founding exists on the internet. What appears to be the school’s website, BishopSycamore.org, is basically a blog; its most recent post, on May 21, explains how to catch a college recruiter’s attention on social media. The website’s About Us section is blank.
The only hard proof I could find of the school’s existence outside a football team is this Massillon (Ohio) Independent article from last September where, even in the most favorable light, this online only-prep school exists somewhere in between Findlay Prep and Prime Prep on the spectrum of alternative, sports-focused high schools.
“It seems like, when you read (about the school on the internet), you hear things about, ’Well, they just run around aimlessly and are just trying to play football,’” associate AD Dave Brown told the paper. “I don’t think that people understand that, a lot of these young men, they really, really, really, really want to go to college, they really, really, really, really want to be good fathers. … The way to teach those things is through football. I don’t think people understand that. They get so caught up in the football aspect of it that they don’t realize there’s actual people who really want to do better in their life.”
Further bolstering the amount of issues regarding Bishop Sycamore are different high school football message boards with damning accusations about the school, as well as a feature about the school head coach Roy Johnson started up prior to Bishop Sycamore alleging fraud and mismanagement and that classes may not have been taking place.
A week later, on Sept. 25, the Ohio High School Athletic Association said its representatives could not verify classes were taking place at the AME Church Third District headquarters at 112 Jefferson Ave. in Columbus, and it determined football games played against COF Academy would not count for points to qualify for the state playoffs.
Johnson and Richardson are defendants in two cases accusing them of unpaid loans for $100,000. Multiple businesses and other private individuals are threatening lawsuits of their own against Johnson, due to accusations of unpaid bills for services, he said.
The Richardson referenced in the feature is former Ohio State and NFL veteran Jay Richardson, who currently works as an analyst for Columbus, Ohio ABC affiliate WSYX. AA was provided a link to a Nov. 2018 Franklin County, Ohio filing showing First Merchants Bank suing Roy Johnson and Jay Richardson and others for $100,000 over various types of fraud. That case has since led to an Aug. 27 decision granting part of First Merchants Bank’s motion for summary judgment. One particular highlight there, citing them for fraudulent misrepresentation:
There are also two very active message board threads about Bishop Sycamore. While we obviously cannot verify all the claims in these threads, we encourage you to read them for yourself, because if just some of the claims are true, athletes are being put in harms way and potentially exploited.
A quick summary can be found of the accusations can be found here on PrepGridIron.com,:
The 5-second version: They were formed as COF a few years back, but that program collapsed under fraud and misuse of funds, including fraudulently obtaining loans and failing to pay numerous vendors and landlords. so they folded that name and called themselves Bishop Sycamore.
In the 2-3 years they’ve been BS, they’ve used multiple fake addresses, multiple fake names, fraudulently attached themselves to actual charitable entities without those entities’ knowledge or permission, and then created a fake school name to attach themselves to, before giving that up and going back to just calling themselves BS and using a fake address.
There is not and never has been an actual school. And there is not and never has been a person named Bishop Sycamore. They use post-grad players, which is one of the many reasons they are not certified by OHSAA or any other certifying body for high school sports. They and their pimp, GSB, lie online about their players, their facilities, and their fake D-1 offers. Meanwhile, they barely have enough players to cover offense and defense, and they don’t have enough uniforms, equipment, and helmets for all the players.
it’s a scam from top to bottom, pimped, pushed, and promoted by GSB.
On Yappi.com, there’s a 45-page thread where the accusations become increasingly alarming. Again, we cannot verify all of these claims, but given surface evidence, it seems worth sharing, because this story is just nuts.
– This is not the first time Bishop Sycamore has played two games over one weekend.
– Head Coach has an active arrest warrant and other legal problems.
From Twitter, and relating to the issue of players being postgrads:
Reading so many stories on Bishop Sycamore today, so let me share this one – They played a defender on Sunday that’s originally a 2020 from Florida. Kid has reported over two dozen fake offers. Showed up once to a 7v7 tryout and used a fake ID. His HUDL is also fake. Amazing.
— Andrew Ivins (@Andrew_Ivins) August 30, 2021
My son was on the team & we initially thought it was going to be great. They have some great kids but the guys running it aren’t coaches & all the negative stuff that you hear is true. Someone needs to shut it down before someone gets hurt. Most of the kids are already 19 or 20.
— Ray Holtzclaw (@rh1869) August 30, 2021
– The reputation of the school has long been in question.
– The players were evicted from their housing, leading to their personal credit was affected.
Awful Announcing also spoke to a parent of a former player who confirmed housing has been an issue for Bishop Sycamore, with players evicted from apartment housing or asked to leave hotels due to lack of payment. A full legal roundup was posted on a new message board post after this article published.
Listen, this is gross. It’s just gross.
ESPN is passing the buck. So is Paragon. Nobody wants to own this, but young players were put in danger, and not for the first time. Opposing school ADs are complicit. IMG hasn’t said a thing. Everyone seems to know what’s going on here, and nobody cares. It’s disgusting. Hopefully the money was worth it.