ESPN got catfished by a fake high school in Ohio. That sounds like the plot to an Adam Sandler movie, but it happened in real life. On Sunday, ESPN aired a Canton, Ohio, matchup between IMG Academy, one of the nation’s top high school football programs, and Bishop Sycamore. It was a seemingly normal matchup. The only problem was... Bishop Sycamore isn’t a real high school.
As the game aired, ESPN’s announcers started to notice some red flags. For one, Bishop Sycamore had told ESPN that they had numerous Division I recruits, just as IMG Academy did. However, as the announcers say, they could not confirm any players on the Bishop Sycamore roster were committed anywhere.
They had also played in a game just two nights prior, not enough time for any players to recover, so why would they put together their schedule as such? Furthermore, if Bishop Sycamore really had all the top talent they claimed, why did their program only start two years ago? That’s not enough time to build a reputable football program that top high school players from around Ohio would want to attend.
On top of all that, Bishop Sycamore was not a member of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which requires each school involved to field at least two sports teams in the winter, spring, and fall to qualify for membership. If they had enough students to field a football team, why wouldn’t they have enough to field other sports teams and become a member? All this seemed a little suspicious to everyone involved.
Just a little deeper and the public started to put two and two together. Of the two addresses the school gave ESPN, one was just a duplex in the state, and the other was the Franklin University library. Officially, Bishop Sycamore has no address listed on their website.
*Cue Billy Mays voice*
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! The head coach of the football team has an arrest warrant out for him in Delaware, Ohio. Per reports, the warrant was for a domestic violence case from July 2. The head coach, Leroy Johnson, was also ordered by a Franklin County judge to attend trial for failing to pay back a $100,000 loan from First Merchants Bank from back in 2018. Not to mention, when Johnson was the head coach of Christians of Faith Academy in 2018, he took his team for some paintball at LVL UP Sports Paintball Park in Grove City as a bonding event. The park’s owner, Dave Pando, claimed that while the team did in fact play paintball — using over 20,000 paintballs, four hours of staff time, and racking up a bill worth over $1,000 — the bill was never paid. When it came time to pony up the cash, Johnson offered up a credit card, but when Pando tried to run the card, it was useless.
So, if the school isn’t real, and the players’ commitments aren’t real, who are these players? Mostly junior college dropouts in their early twenties. While the Bishop Sycamore “program” (if we can call it that), received a fair share of criticism after its game on Sunday, Johnson tried to counter with confidence in his team saying he believes he has a young, growing program on his hands. That’s not the case though. His team is not young at all, and it certainly won’t grow after being exposed to this level. Johnson claimed that he “[should’ve made sure the school had] a functioning website to explain more about what we do,” but the fact of the matter is that there is no clear answer for how Bishop Sycamore provides an education to its athletes, how the school operates, or how the school plans on getting its students to college.
It’s fitting that Johnson and company went with the name Bishop Sycamore for their scam, because this whole thing was just a bunch of BS.
ESPN is now blaming Paragon Marketing Group, the team that scheduled the game, for their on-air disaster. Paragon has stated that Bishop Sycamore claimed to be an online school, making confirmation of their roster very difficult. This is a problem that Paragon has come across several times, but never had a serious issue with. The marketing company went further stating that the roster given to Paragon a month in advance was far different than the one the team put on the field Sunday. Paragon and ESPN have worked together to schedule games for over 20 years.
I haven’t the faintest idea what Johnson or anybody could have said to ESPN to convince them to put their game against one of the nation’s top football programs on live TV. It was never going to be anything sort of a massacre. Even if ESPN believed that Bishop Sycamore really did have several Division I commits like they claimed, the public has shown that it takes minimal effort to check the information they were given and confirm (or in this case disprove) the school’s statements. ESPN is a multi-billion dollar company with all the resources in the world. This never should’ve happened, and as much as ESPN wants to pin the blame on Paragon, they only have themselves to blame.