This week saw the debut of HBO’s much-anticipated BS High documentary on the Bishop Sycamore scandal. One of the notable figures in the documentary is “The Investigator,” former Ohio High School Athletic Association administrator Ben Ferree. Last week, Ferree broke the news for Awful Announcing that disgraced Bishop Sycamore coach Roy Johnson recently filed for bankruptcy. Ferree and journalist Andrew King (also featured on the documentary) have a book coming out September 1st on the saga called Friday Night Lies.
After watching BS High, Awful Announcing spoke to Ferree to answer some of the questions coming out of the documentary and whether anyone has actually taken steps to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.
Q: How did Roy Johnson get kids to play for a school that didn’t exist?
A: He promised them future football opportunities that did not realistically exist, and educational opportunities that were a flat out lie. Once the players knew it was a lie, some left, but enough stayed to continue the football seasons.
Q: Did most kids come from the Columbus area or were they recruited nationally?
A: The identity of all the players for COF Academy/Bishop Sycamore is still a mystery. Of the ones we know about, they were recruited nationally, and international recruitment attempts were even attempted.
Q: Where did Johnson get the money to do these things like rent out blocks of hotel rooms and travel around the country for games? Was he running a Ponzi scheme or is this just fraud?
A: Roy had two loans for a total of nearly $200,000 that he never repaid a penny on. That money was likely the seed money for COF Academy/Bishop Sycamore. He didn’t rent out blocks of hotel rooms in the truest sense, he rented them and never paid for them at all. So he didn’t need any money at all for that aspect. It wasn’t a Ponzi scheme because there wasn’t a continuous chain of investors. It was simply fraud and theft. Not paying for the goods and services received.
Q: Who is Bishop Sycamore exactly?
A: Bishop Sycamore is not a real individual. The name came from the story of Zacchaeus from the Bible, who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Since there is already a school in Ohio named Sycamore (public school near Cincinnati), they slapped the word Bishop on the front to sound legitimate.
Q: Roy Johnson clearly wasn’t qualified to coach football. Did that red flag ever appear to anyone?
A: A Pupil Activity Permit (PAP) is legally required to coach interscholastic youth events in the state of Ohio. Roy did not have a PAP, nor did he even apply for one. Some schools knew this and chose to play Bishop Sycamore anyways. Most of the schools simply never checked or cared to check.
Q: What role did Prep Gridiron Logistics play in continuing this fraud and getting Bishop Sycamore on ESPN? What influence do they have over the system of lucrative high school football?
A: Prep Gridiron Logistics, run by Joe Maimone, is trusted by the schools that employ them to schedule real schools for marquee matchups. They are directly responsible for getting Bishop Sycamore on ESPN and for failing to do any due diligence in ensuring they were a school. Maimone continues to stand by his actions and has not learned any lessons from the Bishop Sycamore saga, yet schools continue to use his services because they too have not learned any lessons, as they have never been held accountable for their role in enabling this scam.
Q: Did Bishop Sycamore ever actually win a game?
Q: Has Ohio really done nothing to prevent Roy Johnson from doing this again?
A: Neither the OHSAA or the Ohio Legislature has made a single change that would prevent a Bishop Sycamore style scam from happening again.
Q: Are there currently schools around the country right now trying to follow the Bishop Sycamore blueprint that we just aren’t aware of?
A: It is possible. It took four years of running this scam before it fell apart for Bishop Sycamore. Others could be doing it more successfully, or failing without getting the media attention.
Q: Roy Johnson claims to not be a criminal and to have done nothing illegal. In your opinion, were there any laws that were broken in the Bishop Sycamore scandal?
A: Multiple laws were broken throughout the Bishop Sycamore scandal. Fraud, theft, passing bad checks, failure to abide by state minimum wage laws. The majority of those crimes have gone unprosecuted.
Q: Will anyone ever hold Roy Johnson accountable?
A: If anyone was going to hold Roy Johnson accountable, they would’ve by now. Any crimes that were committed during the Bishop Sycamore saga are likely approaching their statute of limitations.
Q: How broken is the system of high school sports in Ohio and around the country that allowed this to happen?
A: The system of high school sports is irreparably broken. For the system to change, one of two things would need to happen. Either 1) college would need to become affordable for the masses so that sports are not seen as a lottery ticket to a free education that athletes otherwise cannot afford, or 2) sports would need to no longer be so profitable as to attract scammers and bad actors to the growing pile of cash that continues to trickle down into younger and younger levels. Neither of those things will happen.