Playing football on ESPN changed a lot for Bishop Sycamore, which has since let its football coach go, defended its existence, and been the subject of an Ohio Department of Education investigation.
It’s been a whirlwind for those involved with Ohio-based Bishop Sycamore since its 58-0 loss to IMG Academy was broadcast on ESPN Sunday. Questions of the school’s legitimacy surfaced immediately, with announcer Anish Shroff saying, "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. They did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services. OK, if that’s what you’re telling us, fine, that’s how we take it in. From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a far fight, and there’s got to be a point now where you do worry about health and safety.”
Related content: ESPN Duped into Airing HS Game with Suspect Team
A deeper look into the program found that the football team had played Friday and Sunday, a number of players had already graduated high school, the school’s website — which was down for maintenance Wednesday morning — was solely focused on football, and entering the address associated with the school on Google Earth navigates to an office park.
According to a 2020 article in The Independent, Bishop Sycamore, which is in its third football season, has been “a lightning-rod of controversy in the Columbus area and beyond. The school itself is an online-only charter school, with the non-OHSAA-affiliated football program serving as its most public face.”
According to Cleveland.com, Ohio governor Mike DeWine said Tuesday that he asked the Ohio Department of Education to open an investigation into Bishop Sycamore.
“While this weekend’s football game brought concerns about the health and safety of players, it also raised red flags about the school’s operations,” DeWine said.
Andre Peterson, who founded, directs and is an assistant coach at Bishop Sycamore, defended the school’s existence to USA TODAY Sports on Monday night.
"There’s nothing that I’ve gotten out of this that would constitute it as a scam because I’m not gaining anything financially from what we’re doing," Peterson said. "The reality of it is that I have a son (Javan) that’s also in the program and has been in the program for four years.
"If it’s a scam and the kids are not going to school and not doing what they’re supposed to do, then I’m literally scamming myself. And most importantly, I’m hurting my own son. So when people say stuff like that … I would literally be taking my son’s future and throwing it in the trash."
Peterson acknowledged that Bishop Sycamore needs to do a better job of highlighting what it does, saying, "We have to make sure that website also includes the academic part of it. There’s things that you learn. There’s growing pains that you have. We realized that’s an issue. The reality of it is we’ve caused some of the questions by not doing some of the things that should have been done before. So that’s understandable. I totally get that. We have to make it an actual school website.”
Peterson also told USA TODAY Sports that head football coach Roy Johnson was let go.
“Roy has honestly been like a little brother to me in the sense that when really we were launching Bishop Sycamore, there were some things that we wanted to do better and could have done better,” Peterson said. “I value him as a person, but I just thought right now he needed to step down, he needed to go. We just decided to mutually part ways.”
USA TODAY Sports also reported that teams were removing Bishop Sycamore from their schedules, including St. Edward High School, DeMatha Catholic High School, Johnson Central High School and Duncanville, which said it couldn’t reach a Bishop Sycamore representative.
“Student safety is our top priority and I can’t ask our student athletes to take the field next week without knowing more about who they will be facing,” Duncanville athletic director Dwight Weaver said Tuesday. “Our school district’s core values speak to honesty, integrity, ethics and providing a safe environment for students. This situation calls into question many of those values, so we are canceling this game.”