The other night a “school” called Bishop Sycamore played national football powerhouse, IMG Academy. At the time, Bishop Sycamore was claiming to be a big-time football school as well. ESPN televised the game between the two seemingly top tier programs. It has since come out not only is Bishop Sycamore not a “big-time football school” as they claimed. They may not be a “school” at all.
Bishop Sycamore, from what we can tell, is essentially a fake school created for the sole purpose of fielding a football team … and apparently not even a good one.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Bishop Sycamore may or may not be a real school. It is officially an online only “non-chartered, non-tax supported school.”
- Players affiliated with the coaches say they never went to class and also weren’t properly fed.
- The name “Bishop” implies a Catholic link, but the Archdiocese acknowledges no connection to the school.
- The head coach, Roy Johnson, has a history of money and school related scams. He currently has an active warrant for his arrest for failure to appear in court on a domestic violence charge.
- Many of the players on the team are ineligible. Some too old to play high school football. Some of them are even junior college dropouts. This is on top of the potentially not going to classes aspect which would also make them ineligible.
- The players and their families were sold on lies of a good school, being recruited by big time college programs, and even a Netflix special.
- They reportedly played a game just two days before taking on IMG. (Playing live football games that close together is dangerous. Even NFL players are not allowed to do it, and some players were playing both offense and defense.)
All of this seems like a perverse distortion of the high school athletic experience. It is a significantly worse case than most. But truth be told, not one of those details is unheard of.
High schools have been playing fast and loose with the traditional model of athletics for years. You never want to paint with too broad of a brush, but the image of the star high school athlete that never goes to class or does any schoolwork is a popular stereotype for a reason.
However, it goes deeper than that. There are schools all around the country that are functionally based on athletic programs. At these schools the popular term of “student-athlete” is flipped … a classic example of the tail wagging the dog. These schools are more common than people think. A quick run over to Maxpreps reveals a whole gauntlet of “online-only” schools whose sole purpose is seemingly to field a basketball or football team, in some cases founded by parents explicitly to showcase the talents of their children. There are schools where players have admitted to not doing even the minimal work they were supposed to do.
Bishop Sycamore also had a ton of players who were too old to play high school sports. This is also not new. Not only has there been recent stories about players and schools knowingly lying about ages, but students will often legally reclassify to a lower grade level for sports. That allows them to play against the younger, less experienced players in those grades and look better by comparison. In other words, students are held back in order to gain a competitive advantage in sports.
Unfortunately, problematic coaches aren’t rare either. Headlines are riddled with high school coaches making promises they can’t keep, stealing money from the teams they coach, being vindictive, even breaking the law in much worse ways. Getting an athletes family’s hopes up about being recruited by college programs only to use them as a means to an end is common among even reputable programs.
Upon closer inspection the part that is most unique about Bishop Sycamore is how far they made it. This story is remarkable because they fooled people all the way to a headline matchup on ESPN. There are other Bishop Sycamore type schools that you haven’t heard of or haven’t been caught yet because they didn’t make the mistake of exposing themselves on national television. You need proof? The coach, Roy Johnson, has actually already pulled this same stunt before. Previously, there was a “school” called Christians of Faith Academy, which had its license revoked when the state couldn’t verify if classes were taking place.
Though I am a firm believer in the power of high school and sports, I don’t believe those two things should always be linked. But if you are claiming to link academics and sports then you better take the academic part serious especially because virtually every student-athlete will fall far short of the pros. You have to equip them with the skills they need off the field too. Currently, there are a lot of places where that is not happening, not just Bishop Sycamore.
Bishop Sycamore lost the game to IMG 58-0. That is probably for the best because that loss may be the only actual lesson the students who go there learned: You can’t con your way around having talent and skills.
This isn’t to say that all high school football teams are like Bishop Sycamore. Certainly, all coaches are not Roy Johnson. It is to say that the difference between a now universally maligned program like Bishop Sycamore and ones that are reputable and accepted is sometimes just a difference of degree, not category. The title of this post probably isn’t fair. Bishop Sycamore may not be a “representation” of high school sports, but it is a pretty good satire.