It has been a tough week for ESPN.
Days after announcing that broadcaster Rachel Nichols would be removed from all NBA coverage, the network is even more hot water after being duped by a high school football team.
ESPN on Sunday aired a high school football game between Florida’s IMG Academy — one of the highest-ranked high school teams in the country that consistently blows opponents out — and Ohio’s Bishop Sycamore, a small school nobody has ever heard of. You would think in a primetime matchup on ESPN, the two teams featured would be reasonably well-matched, yet it was another blowout by IMG that made their counterparts look outmatched.
IMG Academy has outclassed opponents before, but this 58-0 thrashing was ridiculously uneven. It appears ESPN thought Bishop Sycamore would be fair competition considering the team was stacked with top recruits, but Bishop Sycamore reportedly lied its way into the game by saying it had a slew of D1 athletes on the roster (it doesn’t at all).
The broadcast team for ESPN was in shock. They struggled to fill airtime while the blowout took place and mentioned they were unable to verify Bishop Sycamore’s story. That led to the commentators ultimately bringing up the concern they had for the safety of the players involved.
This caused a huge stir on social media, but it was nothing compared to what took place after. More details about the program emerged on Monday and things have snowballed from there.
It was discovered that Bishop Sycamore had already played a game on Friday night, just two days prior to their matchup with one of the best teams in the country in IMG Academy. That quick turnaround raised obvious concerns over the health and safety of the players who were on the field Sunday. A lot of the players for Bishop Sycamore played both ways (offense and defense) in both games, meaning they had just one day of rest before doing it all over again on Sunday against the most talented team in the country.
Media watchdog website Awful Announcing discovered that the games for the Geico Kickoff that IMG and Bishop Sycamore played in were booked by Paragon Marketing, who has been an ESPN partner on events across different sports. The president of Paragon, Rashid Ghazi, told the site he had no knowledge of Bishop Sycamore’s Friday game, and the company didn’t do its due diligence in researching the team. They would’ve canceled the game if they had known that was the case.
ESPN has since released a statement about the game.
“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.”
This is where things take an even more bizarre turn. Many have noticed that Bishop Sycamore plays a lot of postgraduate players. In fact, some have played in junior college games, and as a result are older than most high school athletes.
The story about whether or not the Bishop Sycamore program was actually affiliated with a school really picked up steam after personal experiences with the team began popping up on Yappi, an online community forum for high school sports in Ohio. One particular thread featured a slew of concerned parents, former players and amateur sleuths posting a series of alarming accusations about Bishop Sycamore. One of which notes that the head coach of the football team, Roy Johnson, has been in serious legal trouble for quite some time including pending civil suits and rumors of an active arrest warrant. These claims haven’t been verified, but that hasn’t stopped Awful Announcing and other media outlets from chasing down the story from a parent who had children in the program.
“Seeing kids get hurt is the biggest fear I have right now. Probably what’s going to happen is, these kids that have invested time practicing… they are running everywhere to go practice football, their lives are football and that is what they are seeking.” Ray Holtzclaw told Awful Announcing. “They’ve just been misguided in the wrong direction by some people that have, I don’t know, got head games going on.”
Bishop Sycamore’s existence as an actual school has also been questioned. The school is not recognized by the Ohio High School Athletic Association and does not have a fixed physical location.
How all of this got past ESPN to hit broadcast waves is incredible. This is just the beginning of what might continue to be an even weirder story in the coming days.
Story by Aron Yohannes, oregonlive.com