The Truth About Bishop Sycamore

This is the first part of a multi-part installment. This article intentionally focuses its emphasis on the players and not the allegations made against any coaches or owners.

Bishop Sycamore, a football team out of Columbus, Ohio, that faced off against elite IMG Academy on ESPN took social media by storm when ESPN broadcaster Anish Shroff said the following, live on air: “Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster. To be frank, a lot of that we could not verify.” 

ESPN’s insinuations set the internet and mainstream media into a firestorm and investigative reports only fueled the fire. Reports of a “fake school,” left people in stitches especially in the highly competitive world of high school football.  Soon, people began reporting that Sycamore’s players were in their 20s and 30s, a meme able reference littering social media with comparisons to Adam Sandler’s “The Longest Yard,” and comedy central sketches.

The public hungered for more. The coach had a warrant out for his arrest, wrote one reporter. The touring football team rented apartments and then skipped out on bills, another reporter alleged. It was billed as a school that sold false dreams to kids. The address for the school was a PO Box and no one was taking classes, reports alleged. The story snowballed becoming more bizarre by the day & the idea of a fake school full of 30-year-old football rejects who toured the country scamming teams & now ESPN, was so made for TV that it felt comical to people to think it invented itself. People wanted to believe it. They wanted it to grow more outrageous. Every time it did, they reveled in it. But was it all true?

Cue a reality check. Hold up, said the players as they vigorously tried to defend themselves from millions of online trolls. 30-year-olds? None of us are 30 or even 20, they cried to deaf ears. And it turns out, after interviewing more than a dozen players, the oldest player we found for Bishop Sycamore is 19, although one educational partner reported to the Governor’s office that the oldest was 20.

No verifiable D1 prospects says ESPN? Another lie. Turns out multiple players on Bishop Sycamore have received numerous D1 offers from top schools, including UCLA, University of Tennessee, Michigan, the list goes on and it’s easily verifiable by just going to their social media pages where they brag about their offers from months and years ago. No one bothered to check. The team collectively has dozens of college football offers on the table. Players who already graduated high school? Another mystery. Many of the players say they already graduated high school and only needed to take a few online classes to boost their GPAs above a 2.0 to be able to accept those college football offers. Some reclassified because they missed playing football their senior year due to COVID or missed other years of high school football eligibility. The education system allows students to repeat a grade for this purpose, and rules vary across states. It is actually quite common among athletes to do a year in a post grad program after graduating high school and before attending JUCO or college. IMG also offers this post grad option. For other Bishop Sycamore players, they wanted another year of exposure, to tour, gather film, meet scouts and rack up even better offers. A third group of recruits received only partial scholarship offers and didn’t have the funds to head to college right away so they joined Bishop Sycamore. Other students did not do well in traditional school environments and being part of a team and making football their focus, enabled them to focus on online schooling, an easier educational style for them. For some players, family matters forced them to miss years of football and their dreams came second. Bishop Sycamore was a chance to get in the four years of high school football, allowed by the NCAA, for players who missed that opportunity.

If you ask the coaches whether they are snake oil salesmen they will tell you they are out here changing lives, getting kids into the colleges of their dreams & most importantly keeping them off the streets. Some of the players say that playing for Bishop Sycamore actually helped them get better offers, opportunities and exposure. Do they have the resources of IMG or any elite prep academy? No. Was everything handled and run properly by the coaches? That remains to be seen. There is an open investigation by the Ohio State Department of Education but interestingly, the Governor’s office tells me that because the school did not take tax payer funds and was not a charter school, the only requirement for the Owner was to register paperwork annually. The penalty for failing to do so would be removal from the State’s list of schools operating in its borders. The school cannot issue a high school diploma as a non tax, non charter school but the coaches claim they had partnered with an online education provider to get kids legitimate credits. Many of the players, as mentioned above, already earned a high school diploma and needed to add a few extra courses to get their cumulative GPAs up for college. Some of the Coaches have owned up to the fact that the program may not have been organized as best as it could have been. They will have an opportunity to cooperate with the investigation and explain their side. We should wait until all of the information comes out before rushing to judgment. Interestingly, for now, most of the players and their families are still sticking with the coaches and the team even as all of its opponents have cancelled.

The players however are, according to some of their concerned parents, “just innocent kids” being cyberbullied by an avalanche of negative and they claim, largely inaccurate coverage instigated by the biggest reporting outlets in the world. After enduring the emotional and mental effects of the social media onslaught, some of the players have emerged stronger and more defiant. For now, until more information comes out, the players will tell you that it’s Bishop Sycamore against the world.

League of Justice will be covering this story as it progresses, fairly, honestly and accurately.