Early in the football season, ESPN has been known to showcase some of the top high school football teams in the nation as a way of giving younger players the spotlight before the college football and NFL seasons are fully underway.
IMG Academy, a prep boarding school in Florida, is consistently one of the top programs in the nation and is always loaded with future Division I and NFL talents. Their opponent on Sunday in the Hall of Fame Classic at Canton’s Hall of Fame Stadium in Ohio also was said to be loaded up with Division I players, thus prompting ESPN to broadcase the game.
Except, Bishop Sycamore, the Ascenders’ opponent, was not loaded with talent. It might not even have been rested. There’s a chance even that it’s not a real school. And the final score was 58-0
So how did ESPN wind up broadcasting this rout? Sporting News dives in.
Where is Bishop Sycamore?
Bishop Sycamore appears to be based out of Columbus, Ohio.
However, this doesn’t clear up whether this is a real school. First, schools with “Bishop” in their name tend to be catholic schools named for either local bishops or other notable bishops. The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, the city in which Bishop Sycamore claims to be based, does not list anyone named Bishop Sycamore in its history.
Next, that leads to what kind of school Bishop Sycamore is, exactly. According to the Massillon Independent, Bishop Sycamore is an online charter school. It is not listed among the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s directory of schools and the Independent reports it is a non-OHSAA school. Instead, the team is listed as a member school of the Texas Christian Athletic League — yes, Texas — though it is not the only out-of-state school as Ocean Springs Grace Baptist in Mississippi is also listed as a school in the National Division.
Bishop Sycamore football history
How much football experience do the Centurions have? As a team, not much, it would appear. As individual players, perhaps more than most high schoolers.
The website for the school has five blog posts, the most recent coming on May 21, and nothing in its section on “About Us” or “Staff” and the “Schedule” tab just says “2021 Schedule coming soon.” Its page on “Camps” lists 12 on the schedule for 2021, mostly with Division I programs like Clemson, Georgia and TCU.
A GoFundMe page in the team’s name was set up on Aug. 21 saying that it is a “new football program getting established in Columbus” and says it plays “a national schedule which is ranked 4th in the nation.” It has currently raised $140 of a $20,000 goal.
On MaxPreps, the team’s schedule is loaded with several other football teams in eight different states, including national powerhouse Duncanville in Dallas. The team’s schedule from last season said it went 0-6 and was outscored 227-42. It is the only other schedule on the team’s MaxPreps page.
Not on their schedule was a game against Sto-Rox, a high school in Allegheny County Pennsylvania, on Friday. But according to TribLive, Sto-Rox beat Bishop Sycamore 19-7. The only game listed on their schedule from 2021 to already have been played was a matchup against Akron’s Archbishop Hoban, which was a 58-0 loss on Aug. 19.
While the team looks like it hasn’t spent much time together, the roster brings up even more questions. A reporter covering the Archbishop Hoban game shared out what he was given ahead of the matchup.
The roster appears to be filled with several players who might have already graduated high school from other states. The quarterback that played against IMG Academy was Jailen Knight, whose Twitter account said he is a three-star prospect in the 2023 class, while his bio links him to a Hudl page for Perry Hall High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Meanwhile, a 247Sports recruiting page lists Knight as an unrecruited QB, who graduated in 2021. Trillian Harris lists himself on Hudl as a senior quarterback for Bishop Sycamore, while a 247Sports page has him as a California QB in the 2021 class that went unrecruited, and footage from his Hudl page appears to confirm he played for Mission Viejo. Lineman Javan Peterson lists himself as a junior on Hudl, but his timeline shows highlights from a sophomore year in 2018 — which would make him a 2021 grad — while he was playing with CoF Academy in Columbus.
Whether Bishop Sycamore is a real school trying to get its foot in the door of Ohio high school football or not, two games in a matter of three days, including against a team loaded up with the nation’s actual top prospects is incredibly dangerous. And it’s a game that should have been stopped before it started, let alone get broadcasted on national television.
How did this happen?
Even ESPN’s broadcast crew didn’t seem to have the answer for this one.
Play-by-play commentator Anish Shroff said midway during the second quarter, with IMG Academy leading 30-0, that the school told them they had “a number of Division I prospects on their roster.”
“To be farnk, a lot of that, we could not verify and it did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services,” Shroff said. “It’s OK if that’s what you’re telling us, fine, that’s how we take it in. For 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.”
Analyst Tom Luginbill replied saying he was already worried about the game, saying that he thought it was not only a mismatch with the talent up front, but he noted that Bishop Sycamore didn’t seem to have the depth needed should its players get worn down.
According to Awful Announcing, the game was scheduled by Paragon Marketing Group. The report stated that Paragon President Rashid Ghazi said the group did not know Bishop Sycamore played a game on Friday, and that if it had, the game would have been canceled. In addition, Ghazi said the company wished it had done more due diligence with its research into the team.
“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,” ESPN Communications said in a statement.
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